Houses in multiple occupation
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Houses in multiple occupation (HMO) licensing toolkit

HMO licensing toolkit

The toolkit is designed to provide both potential applicants and clients of such premises with a dedicated resource of guidance and information.

Which properties require HMO licensing?

There are approximately 450 properties in the district which are known as houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) as defined by the Housing Act 2004.

The highest proportion of HMOs are buildings comprising two or more self contained flats. Most of these properties were constructed in the Victorian era and are located in the urban centres of Barnstaple and Ilfracombe. Converted flats have by some margin the highest rate of non-decency in the district.

Mandatory licensing applies to HMOs that meet all three of the following conditions:
  • the property is three or more storeys high
  • it has five or more people in more than one household
  • the occupants share amenities such as bathrooms, toilets or cooking facilities
Certain properties are exempt from the licensing regime:
  • where the whole property consists of self-contained flats
  • where the basement is in commercial use and there are only two residential storeys above
  • where the property is owned or managed by a housing association, a local authority, and education, police, fire or health authority
  • where the building is occupied only by an owner or owners, and members of their household
  • where the building is occupied by only 2 persons
Any landlord or letting agent that operates without a Licence shall be liable to a maximum fine of £20,000. They will also not be able to give notice to a tenant and any rent received during that period may be claimed back.

The council has a formal partnership agreement (pdf 87 kB) PDF logo with Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Authority (DSFRA). Under the agreement, fire officers spend one day per week to carrying out joint inspections of HMOs with NDC environmental health officers.

How to apply

To apply for an HMO licence, applicants must complete and submit an application form along with the relevant fee and requisite documents detailed below.

  • fully completed application form
  • appropriate fee
  • detailed sketch or scale plan of the property, with measurements (min. A4 size)
  • current gas safety certificate
  • current BS5839 test reports relating to the fire detection system (if applicable)
  • current BS5266 test reports relating to the emergency lighting system (if applicable)
  • current inspection report from a competent electrician
  • insurance documents

When determining the application for an HMO licence, North Devon Council intends to promote the following objectives:

  1. to ensure that all landlords of HMO, or their agents, are fit and proper persons
  2. to implement minimum standards of management of HMO - Devon wide guidance house in multiple occupation (HMO) standards. (pdf 76 kB) PDF logo
  3. to protect vulnerable tenants
  4. to identify high risk HMO and their landlords and to deal with the health and safety issues involved

The applicant

You must be a fit and proper person to hold the licence.

Application timescale and tacit consent

We will acknowledge your application within 5 working days of receipt.

This council is committed to processing applications within 56 working days of receipt of fully completed applications forms, accompanied by the requisite documentation and the relevant fee.

In the unlikely event that you have not heard from us at the end of the processing timescales identified above, please contact us. Please note that tacit consent does not apply, and your application is not deemed to be granted.

The licence

How long does the licence last?

Licences are granted for a period of five years, although the council retains the discretion to grant a licence for a shorter period, where it considers it is appropriate to do so.

What conditions will be attached to a licence?

The Housing Act 2004 sets out a number of mandatory conditions which must be applied upon the grant of a licence. These are:
  1. if gas is supplied to the house, the licence-holder shall produce to the local housing authority annually for their inspection a gas safety certificate obtained in respect of the house within the last 12 months
  2. the licence-holder shall keep electrical appliances and furniture made available by him in the house in a safe condition
  3. the licence-holder shall supply the authority, on demand, with a declaration by him as to the safety of the appliances and furniture referred to in (b)
  4. the licence-holder shall ensure that smoke alarms are installed in the house and that they are kept in proper working order
  5. the licence-holder shall supply the authority, on demand, with a declaration by him as to the condition and positioning of the smoke alarms
  6. the licence-holder shall supply to the occupiers of the house a written statement of the terms on which they occupy it
  7. the licence-holder shall comply with the Amenity Requirements as detailed in the HMO Licensing Policy.
  8. a copy of the Licence and relevant Contact Details as required in the HMO Licensing Policy shall be displayed at all times in a communal area
In addition, the authority has a discretion to impose other conditions in licences where such conditions are appropriate in the promotion of the licensing objectives as set out above.

The authority is only likely to refuse an application for a licence, or seek variation or revocation of a licence, where the HMO is not reasonably suitable for occupation.

Records required to be kept

  • fire alarm and detection system logbook of testing
  • annual gas safety certificate
  • emergency lighting periodic inspection test certificate
  • fire safety equipment service records (if applicable)
  • electrical inspection report
  • insurance documents

Inspection of premises

The council will identify high-risk HMO by carrying out a risk assessment upon receipt of an application. A visit may be made, where this is deemed necessary.

The council carries out a regular programme of inspections under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), which is set out in the 2004 Act, the frequency of which is determined by their risk rating This includes a risk assessment of the effect of housing conditions on the health and safety of occupiers and involves the assessment of a number of potential hazards, categorised into the more serious (Category 1) and less serious (Category 2).

The Council must require the owner to remedy all Category 1 hazards, whilst having a discretion to require rectification of Category 2 hazards.

Please note

If you are thinking of making alterations to the property during the term of a licence, it is important that you contact us, as it may be necessary to apply for a variation or new licence.


An HMO must be re-licensed at the end of the licence period by completing an application form as for grant of a licence. The same fees apply.

Offences and penalties

Offences may be committed where an HMO is:
  • (a) unlicensed
  • (b) occupied by more persons than is awarded by the licence
  • (c) in breach of any licence condition

In respect of licence condition (a) and (b) - £20,000 fine (not exceeding). In respect of condition (c) fine not exceeding level 5.


A graduated approach is aimed at encouraging owners, landlords and managers to acquire licences and to improve the standards of their premises, and provide "decent homes", rather than to punish poor management.

However, the council will take action where necessary under one of the following categories:
  • criminal offence - operating without a licence
  • criminal offence - breaching licence conditions
  • rent payment order
  • management order
  • revocation of licence
  • variation of licence

Rights of entry

Officers will normally give at least 24 hours notice in writing to owners and occupiers of their intention to enter premises for the purpose of carrying out a survey or examination.

In circumstances where the housing authority considers it necessary to ascertain whether an offence has been committed, an enforcement officer may enter the premises at any reasonable time and without prior notice.

Application forms

logo - EU-GO portal

EUGO portalexternal website


The Housing Act 2004 and other subordinate legislation does not specify a structure of fees for applicants seeking an HMO licence. In the absence of standard fees, therefore, the council has adopted its own fee structure.

The fee for initial registration of an HMO is £410.00 per property (regardless of the number of units of accommodation within the property).

HMO register

The HMO register contains the details of HMO premises licensed with North Devon Council.


You may appeal to a residential property tribunalExternal link (please note this is archived material) if your application has been refused, or regarding conditions attached to a licence or any decision to vary or revoke a licence.

If a licence is granted and you wish to appeal against it being granted you may do so to a residential property tribunal about noise, pollution etc. Also should one licence holder complain about another.

In all cases, any appeal must be made within 28 days of the decision being made.

Further information

Contact information

To contact the Customer Service Centre:

Telephone: 01271 388870
For Typetalk: precede with 18001
Text: 07624 804042
Fax: 01271 388451
Web form: send us a web enquiry
Join the conversation on Twitterexternal website
Compliment, complaint or suggestion? Your feedback

Our office hours are Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.

Licence applications, notices etc should be sent to:

The Licensing Team
Environmental Health and Housing
North Devon Council
Civic Centre
North Walk
EX31 1EA

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