If you’ve taken your first steps as an independent adult, been a student, or needed to cut down on your living costs, you’ll probably have spent some time in shared accommodation. For various reasons – be it social or financial – some people prefer to share their household with other tenants for a large part of their adult life.

There’s a chance, therefore, that those of you who are house-sharing might also have heard the word ‘HMO’ come up at some point.

…So what is an HMO?

An HMO (House in Multiple Occupancy) is a property inhabited by more than 3 people who aren’t from the same family. These properties are usually shared houses or flats, bedsits, hostels or B&Bs.

The reason an HMO is different from other forms of housing is that it needs to be licensed. This licence is completely separate from your tenancy or your landlord’s registration; it simply shows the property has undergone a series of checks by the local council before it’s deemed fit for multiple tenants to live in. The checks make sure that:

  • The landlord is fit to hold the licence (i.e, doesn’t hold any criminal convictions);
  • The property is managed and maintained properly and all terms are clear in the tenancy agreement;
  • The property is safe, secure, adequately supplied and free of any potential hazards.

It’s a good idea to find out about the responsibilities of an HMO landlord before you move in, as well as your own. Read over your tenancy agreement thoroughly, so that down the line you can be sure that you aren’t taking responsibility for a repair that should be down to your landlord (or vice versa)!

Check out the video below for a brief guide to HMOs and shared accommodation:

What’s it like having multiple housemates?

There are both perks and pitfalls of house-sharing. From my experience both as a student off-campus and as a tenant in more recent years, shared accommodation has its distinct advantages:

  • It keeps your costs down
  • Short-term tenancies are usually available, making it easier if you need to stay somewhere for a temporary work contract or as a student
  • It’s a great way to meet new people, get introduced to your new town or city, and to learn valuable lessons about living with others!

When I moved to Edinburgh, my first home was an HMO and I shared with 4 people. It certainly had its ups and downs; living with several sets of opinions and habits isn’t always easy, so it gives you some serious lessons in patience. Still, we did have some really great times – I loved the movie nights and communal dinners, and we did really look out for each other when things were a bit tough. A fairly frequent turnover in tenants meant I also got to meet people from a spectrum of cultural backgrounds, most of whom I’ve stayed friends with for years. So here are my top tips for a happy shared household:

  • Communication really is key. Try holding regular household meetings so you can all delegate tasks and talk about any issues you’re having – and escalate them to the landlord if necessary.
  • To make a simple job of managing chores, I highly recommend keeping a rota so that everyone gets their fair share of tasks! You can download our cleaning rota template and print it off to stick on the fridge.
  • If you have different shift patterns, be considerate to your housemates. If you go round slamming doors or watching TV on full volume after you come in from your late shift at 2am, you won’t be very popular. If you’d rather avoid this issue altogether, you could try and choose housemates who share similar work patterns to you.
  • Keep a change pot for communal items such as bin bags, toilet roll and cleaning products. If each of you drop in a pound or two a week, it can be dipped into at any time for emergency supplies and nobody has to keep track of ‘who owes whom’!
  • Respect will take you a long way. If you break something that belongs to a housemate, offer to replace it. If you make a mess, don’t leave it for someone else to clean up. Avoid passive-aggressive behaviour and resolve problems upfront instead of holding grudges. It’s all common sense really, but it’s so easy to take these things for granted! (The Mix serves up even more advice on housemate rules in this article.)

We have plenty more information if you’d like to know more about renting a room in an HMO. If an HMO doesn’t sound like the right thing for you, consider sharing with one or two other people instead – you can still save money!

Still feeling unsure about something? Check out the top 10 questions on renting we get asked at Shelter Scotland – you may find the answers you’re looking for.


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