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.


  1. There should be a govt department that deals with all of this – and the right to rent too. Not unqualified, untrained, unpaid landlords.
    Those that want to rent should register to this govt dept, apply for a right to rent or declare their household re; HMO status etc, and then the govt can ask the prospective tenants for whatever evidence they fell like, before issuing or declining their proposed status.
    The tenant would then have this approval to show any landlord or letting agent dealing with them.
    Landlords should not have to make these sometimes complex blurred judgements.
    I mean, how do I know if a couple (or throuple) are to live together “as if married”, what-ever that means nowadays anyway.

  2. This is a big problem where Additional Licensing is concerned.

    There maybe a 3 bed flat where two of the unrelated occupiers become an item.
    So two 3 occupiers of 2 households.

    Then the couple has a tiff and they become non-item resulting in 3 unrelated occupiers requiring Additional Licensing.

    Then a few weeks later the two become an item again.

    How is a LL supposed to keep up with potentially ever changing domestic circumstances!!!??

    This is why Additional Licensing is ridiculous.

    Does the LL contact the Council and state today there are now 2 households

    Yesterday there were three.
    A week later LL contacts Council to advise the 2 households are now 3.

    The Council would be Additional Licensing and unlicensing every other week.

    What are the Council going to do?…….Carry out a dawn raid on every possible 3 household situation that hasn’t been licensed to determine if beds are still warm!?

    What about lodgers!?

    3 unrelated lodgers and 1 live-in LL shouldn’t require any form of licence.
    Yet potentially Additional Licensing applies.

    Say the 3 lodgers get into a polyamorous relationship how will Council prove they aren’t and need Additional Licencing!?

    Gonna checks beds again in dawn raids!!!??

    • Landlord gets an additional licence if they feel the property might need one at some stage. Your hypothetical crisis has been averted.

      Alternatively – lay out clearly to the tenants the licensing situation and request that they are upfront about notifying the landlord of any long term relationships (breakups) that may impact the HMO status of the property (in the same way as they might be obligated to if a partner moved into or out of the property).
      Then use this (“But I didn’t know!”) defence if an RRO or fine action is brought (but be aware that this defence is now weakened by the many other scoundrels who have falsely tried it on in the past…)


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