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As a landlord trying to maximise your profits it can sometimes be tempting to ask whether or not a house could fit more renters. You may already have done away with living rooms, dining rooms and any other non-essential spaces in order to cram more beds in, but how do you tell when things have gone too far?

There are dozens of horror stories out there about landlords who treated tenants like sardines and got taken to court as a result. Of course this is not just scary for tenants: landlords who endanger their renters often end up having to pay substantial fines.

Luckily, there are a number of clear cut standards for exactly how many tenants can live in a property. If, after applying these rules, you find that your property is ‘statutorily overcrowded’, you should be aware that you are committing a criminal offence and male rectifying the situation a priority.

It is also worth pointing out at this point that a property packed with tenants from multiple ‘households’ may also be classed as a ‘House in Multiple Occupation’ (HMO)'. If this is the case your property may require an additional licence and be subject to more detailed legislation regarding the standard of living you must provide for your tenants.

You may want to start by contacting a local estate agent. They should be familiar enough with local property law to be able to share valuable advice, and they may also be aware of the standards followed by other landlords in the area.
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Legal standards for overcrowding

There are two legal standards for overcrowding which apply to any ‘separate dwellings’. This could be a house, flat or even a separate room provided it is let separately from the rest of the building.

Keep in mind that local authorities often utilise a third method called the ‘bedroom standard’ when assessing local properties. As such, it can be an excellent idea to get in touch with your local authority early on in order to find out exactly which rules are applied in your area.

Room standard

According to this rule, a property is ‘overcrowded’ if two people of differing genders have no choice but to sleep in the same room. This applies only once there are no areas left which can be used as sleeping areas, including living rooms, studies, dining rooms and large kitchens. Married or cohabiting couples who can share without causing overcrowding are exempt from this rule, as are children under the age of ten.

Space standard 

This rule is a tad more complicated, but it can give you a clear of idea of how many tenants you can take on based on how many rooms your property has on offer. 

It is based on how many ‘people’ can fit in a room, though children aged between one and nine only count as half a person, while kids under 1 are not factored in. A ‘room’ is defined as having at least 50 square feet or 4.6 square meters of floor space, and must be either a bedroom or living room.

  • 1 room - 2 people max
  • 2 rooms - 3 people max
  • 3 rooms - 5 people max
  • 4 rooms - 7.5 people max
  • 5 rooms or more - 2 people per room

OR

  • 50-69 sq ft/ 4.6-6.4 sq m room - 0.5 people (one child aged 1-10)
  • 70-89 sq ft/ 6.5-8.3 sq m room - 1 person
  • 90-109 sq ft/ 8.4-10.1 sq m room - 1.5 people
  • 110 sq ft/ 10.2 sq m room - 2 people

Keep in mind that while there are no rules on how rooms should be measured, a local authority has the right to enter the property and take their own measurements if necessary.

This may sound overly complex, but it is worth taking the time to get a firm idea of exactly how many tenants a house can take. 

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Exceptions for overcrowding standards

Though the Room and Space standards are fairly strict, there are exceptions when a property may still not be classified as statutorily overcrowded:

  • Natural growth - If the standards have been breached because a child has aged their way into a higher category, such as child turning two and suddenly being classed as half a person rather than none. The occupier must have made an application to their council for alternative accommodation for this rule to apply. Also, if there was any opportunity for a member of the household to leave, they must have tried to take it, otherwise an offence will have been committed
  • Temporary overcrowding - If one of the people in the property is a member of an occupier’s family staying there temporarily
  • Licensed overcrowding - If the local authority has given permission for the overcrowding. Permission must have been applied for by the occupier. Keep in mind that it is only granted in exceptional circumstances

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How many tenants can live in a HMO?

Figuring out how many tenants you can fit into a house can be difficult enough, but if they come from separate families then you may technically have a number of ‘households’ living under the same roof, and this is where things get complicated. 

A ‘household’ is defined as a single person or members of a family who live together, included married couples, couples living together, half-relatives and step-parents or children. If there are multiple households under the same roof sharing toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities, the property may be classed as a HMO (House in Multiple Occupation).

In most cases, only ‘large’ HMOs require any kind of licence. These are HMOs which are at least three storeys high, support at least five tenants (from more than one household) and offers shared toilet, bathroom or kitchen facilities. However, it is not uncommon for councils to apply additional licensing laws to their locales, which will force all HMO landlords to acquire licences. 

If this is the case then both you and your property may be subject to checks to ensure that everything is up to standard and your tenants are not living in uncomfortable conditions. For example, you would be expected to supply not only enough bedrooms but also adequate storage space for each of your tenants in the kitchen.

In a HMO is is vital to make sure that everyone has enough space. Disagreements between tenants can be hazardous and may leave you with sudden void periods where no money is coming in. For more advice, it will be best to speak to your council’s Environmental Health Officer.