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HMO information and resources

Find details of HMO landlords or agents

If you're writing a complaint about disturbance from an address, you can find details of HMOs, their landlords and agents using the Pinpoint map. All this is covered in How to Complain.

General information about Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

Most students live in rented accommodation in which several tenants share facilities such as bathrooms, kitchen and communal living room. All so-called HMOs are subject to legislation as regards fire safety and basic facilities. Most HMOs in inner-city areas of Bristol also need to obtain a licence from the Private Housing Service at Bristol City Council.

There are two main categories: "Mandatory" HMOs house five or more unrelated people sharing facilities and "Additional" HMOs house three or four unrelated sharers. Either type can apply to houses or flats and some properties may contain several HMOs, of either or both types.​

"Mandatory" HMOs, regardless of where they are, have required a licence since 2006 under a national scheme that is administered locally by PHS.

"Additional" HMOs arise where local authorities use discretionary powers to impose licensing for smaller HMOs. BCC introduced this in 2019 in 12 inner-city wards (including Redland, Cotham, Clifton Down and Clifton). In 2022 it extended "additional" licensing to Bedminster, Brislington West and Horfield. (Not to be confused with "selective" licensing, which also applies in Bedminster and Brislington West but not Horfield.)

HMO Licensing and Planning Permission

​The significance of the HMO legislation in terms of noise is simple: to hold a big party, you need a big house. So the worst of the noise events residents suffer mostly takes place in "Mandatory" HMOs.

HMO licensees are subject to licence conditions and a code of good management that require, among other things, that landlords "take all reasonable and practicable steps to prevent or reduce anti-social behaviour by persons occupying or visiting the house."  (See document links below.)

Landlords who fail to take the "reasonable steps" noted above could theoretically be fined, or could lose their licences. In practice that appears never to have happened, at least locally.

There is no mechanism in law requiring councils to take into account public opinion or complaints when approving or renewing licences. New HMOs also require planning permission—a process that does involve public consultation but is legally separate from licensing. If an HMO is found not to have planning permission, that can be dealt with by planning enforcement, but it does not prevent the HMO obtaining a licence. That is a great frustration to many (including council officers) but it is the result of the way national legislation has been written, and council officers are not at liberty to make licensing conditional on evidence of planning permission. The workaround is that officers can send a list of recently granted HMO licences to the planning department, who then check if the properties have planning approval. If they don't, they are dealt with via planning enforcement—but there is nothing to stop them continuing to operate as HMOs while that process drags on. Needless to say, not a few landlords have gamed this system ...

Equally theoretically, occupiers of HMOs are also under legal duties. Principally, they must not "hinder or frustrate the manager in the performance of his duties" . The full wording can be seen in the 2006 regulations cited below. Bristol City Council said in 2018 it had never prosecuted anyone under these rules. Few people know they exist.

Key documents:

Housing Act 2004 ... the main legislation that sets up HMO licensing. See Part 2.

HMO Management Regulations 2006 ... includes duties of occupiers—section 10. See also the Explanatory Note for a reference to action on breaches.

Code of Good Management Practice .... Part of the additional conditions that apply to HMOs in the Bristol area (authorities have some leeway to tailor conditions to the circumstances in their own areas). In addition to the "reasonable steps" duty mentioned above, the code states: "The landlord agrees to offer occupiers of the immediately neighbouring properties a contact telephone number, address or e-mail address to report any problems."

Licence Conditions: ... This is the BCC landing page for all HMO licensing documents; scroll down to find the licence conditions PDF. (There are now different versions for different schemes, so be careful to select the right one). Using the Mandatory licence conditions as a reference, individual clauses of particular interest are:

8.5: must "issue new tenants with a tenancy or written agreement that include clauses that will allow the licence holder to take reasonable steps to tackle anti-social behaviour";

9.3: licence holders (landlords) or their property managers must seek references for new tenants;

11.1: must "take all reasonable and practicable steps to prevent or reduce anti-social behaviour by persons occupying or visiting the house";

11.2: must "take all reasonable steps to ensure that the property is not used for illegal or immoral purposes";

11.3: must "take all reasonable steps to keep the external appearance of the property in a reasonable condition taking into account its age of the property, character and locality and keep the exterior of the property free from graffiti and fly posters";

11.4: must "arrange inspections of the property on a regular basis to assess if there is evidence of anti-social behaviour; this should be at least quarterly, but more frequently if anti-social behaviour has been established";

11.5: must "provide the occupants of adjoining properties direct contact details such as a telephone number to enable them to inform the licence holder of problems such as complaints about the behaviour of the tenants or their visitors".

Note also the footnoted definition of ASB: "Anti-social behaviour: Behaviour that causes or is likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household (this includes noise nuisance)."

HMO Supplementary Planning Document (SPD). This is an important document, adopted in November 2020, that introduces new rules to limit the spread of HMOs in Bristol. It also contains some useful references to potential voluntary measures to reduce noise nuisance from HMOs. See page 18, section 6.3 Sound Reduction Measures, where you will find the following list (submitted by me in the second round of public consultation and adopted in full!):

"In all circumstances applicants should consider on a voluntary basis the provision of a range of easy to install sound reduction measures where appropriate. Measures could include:

  • Use of soft-closers on internal doors and external doors;

  • Replacement of door knockers with doorbells/keyless systems;

  • Sound-deadening material on stair treads;

  • Location/design of bathroom sanitary ware to avoid noise transmission through party walls;

  • Plan layouts that avoid positioning of communal rooms opposite bedrooms in adjoining properties and restriction of access to elevated external areas (i.e. balconies, roofs).

  • Noise mitigation where access to properties is from the rear via external steps and walkways (such as HMOs above commercial premises). These can include enclosed lobbies and walkways or creation of an entrance on the main street."​

The Pinpoint Map

To see the location of HMOs and details of the licences of individual properties go to the Pinpoint map: Instructions on how to use the map, and some other comments, are available at How to complain.

If an address is not identified as an HMO.

If you know an address is in use as an HMO but it isn't identified as such on Pinpoint, don't take this as indicating the property is being used as an HMO illegally. Icons tend to disappear for a while when a new licence is being processed, either for purposes of renewal (licences last for five years) or amendment (if, for example, the property has been sold to a new landlord). Pinpoint is based on a master register that is periodically updated by Bristol City Council. If you have serious concerns that an property is in use illegally as an HMO (that is, does not have an HMO licence) contact BCC's

Private Housing Team to clarify. (See Bristol City Council information.)

September 2023




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