Is it illegal to have one bathroom for six people?

There are six of us living in a house with one small bathroom. The thing is we've been told that this might be illegal. Can you tell us whether it is or not? And how many bathrooms should there be?

If the six of you aren’t all members of the same family the house you live in will probably be classed as a house in multiple occupation (HMO). This is a particular type of housing where more than one household lives in one privately rented building. A house is likely to be an HMO if more than one household lives in the house, but does not share activities such as cooking and eating together with other households. You are also more likely to live in an HMO if you have a separate tenancy agreement from other households, and if you moved in at different times to other residents.

If you are not sure whether you live in an HMO it’s important you get help and information from a local advice agency. Because landlords need to follow certain rules if the property is an HMO, some may try to say the property is not an HMO.

Tenants of HMOs have particular rights and their landlords have some extra responsibilities. If you live in an HMO, then you may have one of a number of different tenancy types. This will depend on when you moved in and whether your landlord lives on the premises. If you’re not sure what type of tenancy you have you can find out by seeking advice from a local agency. Your tenancy type will affect how easily you can be evicted, and this could influence whether you decide to take action against your landlord for things like disrepair.

A landlord of an HMO is responsible for making sure that it is suitable for the number of people who live there. There should be:

  • Facilities to store, prepare and cook food, including enough sinks, with hot and cold running water, all in good repair;
  • Enough toilets for tenants;
  • Enough sinks and baths or showers, with hot and cold running water;
  • A clear fire escape and proper fire precautions, such as smoke alarms;
  • A suitable place to leave rubbish;
  • Clean communal areas that are kept in a good state of repair.

Government guidance states that the bathroom to tenant ratio should be no less than one bathroom/bath or shower/lavatory for every five people. This is only guidance and each council is free to interpret the standard and make their own decision based on the merits of the individual case.

If you live in an HMO and feel your landlord is not fulfilling their legal duties you could get together with other tenants in the building and approach your landlord about the problem. If the problem persists, or if you don’t want to approach your landlord because you are worried you might be evicted, you can contact your local council’s Environmental Health department who can take action to put things right. You can ask the council to keep your complaint confidential, so your landlord won’t know who complained. Ask the council to let you know what action it takes, so you will know if your landlord is doing what they should.

When a council decides an HMO fails to meet the standards required for the number of occupants, a notice can be served by the local authority specifying what work needs to be completed to make the HMO reasonably suitable for the current number of occupants. The local authority could also arrange for fewer people to live in the HMO once the work has been carried out.

In very serious circumstances, if the landlord does not follow these instructions, the council can:

  • Do the work on behalf of the landlord, then make the landlord pay for it;
  • Prosecute the landlord;
  • Close down the building (the council could only do this if the building is very dangerous and would usually have to re-house you).

If you don’t live in an HMO then you can talk to an advisor at your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) or Housing Aid Centre to find out more about your rights and what to do next.

Answered by Shelter on 06-Mar-2014

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