Landlords and agents must make sure they don’t come a cropper deciding what constitutes a single household when vetting HMO tenants in an age of ‘polyamorous’ relationships, warns a top property lawyer.
While the legal definition of a household can be explained quickly, real life relationships are not so easily classified, says Robin Stewart, a solicitor specialising in property law at Anthony Gold.
He points to a recent Property Ombudsman case study where a polyamorous ‘throuple’ were refused accommodation by agents who told them that the local authority would treat them as forming more than one household, making the property an HMO, which would not be allowed.
“This was an interesting case study, and agents are quite likely to start to encounter this sort of issue slightly more often,” says Stewart. “It does not attempt to offer any legal analysis, and we may be waiting some time for any authoritative case law on how to apply the Housing Act’s concept of ‘household’ to polyamorous groupings.”
Long term commitment
He explains that government policy guidance over social security entitlement considers that two people who are living together as a married couple would be expected to have the intention of sharing their lives together in the long term.
This guidance takes the view that those living together in a non-monogamous relationship would not be living together as a married couple because exclusivity is a key element of marriage.
However, Stewart (pictured) adds that if it’s possible to be a member of more than one couple, the members of the ‘throuple’, and any relatives of those persons, might be regarded as members of the same family, and hence one household.
He adds: “Where prospective tenants state that they are one household, agents should ensure that they understand what the relationships are, and then record this in writing.
“If there are ‘red flags’ suggesting that the tenants’ relationships might not be as claimed, it is very risky to ignore this.”
Read more: Complete guide to managing an HMO.