London Borough of Tower Hamlets

If you need help understanding the property licensing rules in Tower Hamlets you have come to the right place! We are experts in housing regulation and have produced this free guide to help you understand the council’s property licensing schemes.

If you find that you need a licence for your rented property our support doesn’t end there. Our Landlord Suppliers Directory (view here) lists companies that offer a licence application handling service. You can also find companies offering a wide range of other goods and services to help you manage your property portfolio and achieve compliance.

Licensing Requirements

Do I need a licence to rent out my property?

There are currently three licensing schemes operating in Tower Hamlets. We will help you choose the right licence for your property.

1. Mandatory HMO licence

You will need a mandatory HMO licence if your property meets the standard test, self-contained flat test or converted building test HMO definition in section 254 of the Housing Act 2004 and is occupied by five or more people.

But what are these tests and what does this mean in practice? It means you need a licence for any house or flat that is occupied by five or more people who are not all related and live in the property as their main home. For example, it includes:

  • Shared houses and flats occupied by students and young professionals;
  • Properties converted into bedsits with some shared facilities; and
  • Properties converted into a mixture of self-contained and non self-contained accommodation.  

Prior to 1 October 2018, the mandatory HMO licensing scheme only applied to properties that were three or more storeys in height, but that restriction has now been lifted.

The government have decided to exclude purpose built self-contained flats within a block comprising three or more self-contained flats from the mandatory HMO licensing scheme. While this will be good news for some landlords, it does make the licensing scheme far more complicated.

To find out more, you can read our free guide to mandatory HMO licensing (here).

2. Additional licence

The latest additional licensing scheme started on 1 April 2024 and continues for a further five years until 31 March 2029.

The scheme applies to all HMOs in the borough that are occupied by three or more people. 

The council have included ‘section 257 HMOs: certain converted blocks of flats’ in the scheme. These are properties that:

  • have been converted into self-contained flats; and
  • less than two thirds of the flats are owner occupied; and
  • the conversion did not comply with the relevant Building Regulations in force at that time and still does not comply.

A copy of the additional licensing public notice can be viewed in the ‘At a Glance’ box of the top right of this webpage.

To find out more, you can read our free guide to additional licensing (here).

3. Selective licence

The selective licensing scheme started on 1 October 2021 and continues for five years until 30 September 2026.

You need a selective licence if your property (house or flat) is let out to a single household or two sharers in Whitechaple, Weavers, Spitalfields and Banglatown, based on the council ward boundaries that existed pre 22 May 2014 – in the west of the borough.  

From 1 October 2021, the council intended to exclude any property where the tenancy or licence of the house had been granted by a student accommodation provider accredited by Accreditation Network UK (ANUK). After realising there was no power to make this exemption, the council varied the scheme designation to exclude properties in postcodes E1 1ES, E1 1FA, E1 7HS, E1 8EU, E1 1LP and E1 1DQ. It remains unclear if the legislation allows a licensing scheme to be varied in this way.

To find out if your property is in the selective licensing area, you can carry out a postcode search on the council’s website.

A copy of the selective licensing public notice can be viewed in the ‘At a Glance’ box of the top right of this webpage.

To find out more, you can read our free guide to selective licensing (here).

How much does a licence cost?

It depends on what type of licence you are applying for.

Mandatory HMO licensing

The fee is £691.50 for an online application plus £48 for each habitable room. So, it would cost £931.50 for a shared house with five single person lettings and no communal living room.

It says you must pay an extra £41.50 if you want to pay the application fee in two instalments.

Whilst the fee rates are below average for the London boroughs, it says on the website you need to re-licence after three years rather than the five year period adopted by most councils.  

Additional licensing

The fee is £669 for an online application, plus an extra £41 if you want to pay the application fee in two instalments.

Selective licensing

The fee is £723 for an online application, plus an extra £42 if you want to pay the application fee in two instalments. Lower fees apply to licence renewals.

The website doesn’t list any discount for accredited landlords, which we think is a shame.

For all three licensing schemes, there are various extra charges if you submit a partial application or apply by post.

The fees we have listed are correct as of April 2024 but could be subject to change in the future. You can view the licence application fees on the council’s website.

How do I apply for a licence?

Tower Hamlets Council have an online application process for their mandatory HMO, additional and selective licensing schemes. You can apply by visiting the council’s website.

We offer a licence application handling service in Tower Hamlets and you can find further information here. Simply complete the online enquiry form to get the process underway.

You can find other companies offering a licence application handling service in our Landlord Suppliers Directory (here).

It is important to remember that submitting a licence application is only the start of the licence approval process. To help landlords understand what happens next, we have published a free guide here.

Are there any standards I need to comply with?

Tower Hamlets Council have published HMO standards which can be downloaded from the council’s website. When you click on the link, scroll down the page and you will find them listed under ‘Property licensing conditions’.

It is important to note that new absolute minimum bedroom sizes for licensed HMOs have been introduced for HMO licence applications approved on or after 1 October 2018:

  • 4.64m2 for a child under 10 years old
  • 6.51m2 for one person over 10 years old
  • 10.22m2 for two people over 10 years old

The council can still ask for larger minimum sizes. These new minimum sizes apply throughout England to HMOs licensed under a mandatory HMO or additional licensing scheme.

How many properties has the Council licensed?

In February 2023, Tower Hamlets public register of licensed properties listed 750 mandatory HMO licences, 4,997 additional licences and 7,960 selective licences.

Tower Hamlets Council keeps a public register of licensed properties that is regularly updated. The mandatory HMO licensing register can be viewed here, the additional licensing public register can be viewed here and and selective licensing register can be viewed here.

Are there lots of unlicensed properties still out there?

In May 2019, Tower Hamlets Council told us they think there could be 9,000 properties that require a licence under the additional licensing scheme and 6,000 properties that need licensing under the selective licensing scheme.

Whilst the number of selective licence applications has exceeded the council’s expectations, there could still be many properties that need licensing under the additional licensing scheme.

What happens if I don’t get a licence?

Ignore the law and you could pay a heavy price. You risk being prosecuted by the council and if found guilty you could get a criminal record, be fined an unlimited amount and ordered to pay court costs and a victim surcharge.

Alternatively, the council can issue you with a civil penalty notice of up to £30,000 for not having the correct licence without any warning being given, so this is really serious stuff.  

You could also be subject to a Rent Repayment Order and may have to repay up to 12 months rental income.

Whilst the property is unlicensed, you can’t use a Notice of Seeking Possession under Section 21 Housing Act 1988 to evict your tenants. 
  
And following a successful prosecution, you would probably fail a fit and proper person assessment, making it very difficult for you to obtain a property licence in the future.

Don’t put your livelihood and reputation at risk. Make sure you comply with the law.

Does the Council take much housing enforcement action?

In London, most boroughs publish information about housing prosecutions and civil financial penalties on the Mayor of London’s ‘Rogue landlord and agent checker’. You can search the database by entering a property address, landlord / agent name or by selecting the relevant borough, available here

How many accredited landlords are there?

There are landlord accreditation schemes operated by the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) and other organisations. 

Whilst we don’t have any figures for the NRLA scheme, we have got information about the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme that is supported by all the London Boroughs. In January 2016, they told us there were 618 accredited landlords in Tower Hamlets, which was the 8th highest out of all London boroughs.

January 2018: 725 accredited landlords
January 2019: 897 accredited landlords
January 2020: 973 accredited landlords
January 2021: 1,108 accredited landlords
January 2022: 1,274 accredited landlords
January 2023: 1,492 accredited landlords

By January 2024 there were 1,626 accredited landlords, which is above average when compared to all the London boroughs. To find out more about becoming accredited, you can visit the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme website here.

In addition to training and development, accredited landlords are entitled to various benefits, including discounted licensing fees in some boroughs. If you are not already a member, we would encourage you to think about joining! 

Is the Council planning to introduce any new licensing schemes?

Tower Hamlets Council consulted on plans to introduce a new additional licensing scheme, timed for when the current scheme expires. The consultation took place from 12 December 2022 to 31 March 2023 and you can find more information on the council’s website.

A new borough wide additional licensing scheme was approved at a Cabinet meeting on 25 October 2023 (read here – agenda item 6.7) and came into force on 1 April 2024.

There is clearly a lot happening in Tower Hamlets so we will monitor the situation closely. You can sign up to our free newsletter for all the latest news.

Do I need planning permission for my HMO?

You will need planning permission if you are changing your property from a single-family property to a house in multiple occupation (HMO) occupied by more than six people. HMOs occupied by more than six people fall within ‘sui-generis’ use for which planning permission is required. You will also need planning permission if you a splitting up a property into smaller self-contained units of accommodation.

For small HMOs, the rules are a bit more complicated. HMOs occupied and shared by between three and six people fall into planning use class C4 whereas single-family properties fall into planning use class C3.

On 24 July 2019, Tower Hamlets Council made a non-immediate HMO Article 4 Direction that removes the permitted development rights to change a property from a single-family house (use class C3) to an HMO occupied by up to six people (use class C4) without planning permission..

The HMO Article 4 Direction came into force on 1 January 2021. From that date, even letting your property to three people who are not all related could require planning permission. A copy of the Public Notice can be viewed in the ‘At a Glance’ box on the top right of this page.

More information about the HMO Article 4 Direction can be found on the council’s website

Remember that this is only intended as general advice and no liability can be accepted for any reliance upon information provided. We would strongly encourage you to contact the Council’s Planning Department or seek independent legal advice before you start a new HMO development.

Can you help me find the goods and services I need?

We certainly can. We understand the challenges of being a private landlord and so we have developed a Landlord Suppliers Directory to provide you with access to the goods and services you need. The Directory concentrates on businesses that operate in the London area.

Whether you a looking for a letting agent, want a property inventory for a new tenancy or fire risk assessment, we have got it covered – and far more besides!

As the leading experts in property licensing, we also offer a range of services ourselves. From handling the licence application process to advice on new HMO developments, we can help to ensure your property business remains compliant. If you need assistance, please drop us a line and see if we can help! 

New suppliers are regularly being added and we would encourage you to take a look. Some of our featured listings also contain YouTube videos, helping you to find out more about the business. 

How do I find out more?

You can contact the council at: 

Environmental Health & Trading Standards
Tower Hamlets Council
Tower Hamlets Town Hall
160 Whitechaple Road
London E1 1BJ

Email: housinglicensing@towerhamlets.gov.uk
Tel: 020 7364 5008
Website: www.towerhamlets.gov.uk

Latest News

Consultations

There are currently no licensing consultations we are aware of in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets

Schemes

Events

Opinion

At a Glance

Licence Overview

In Tower Hamlets, the mandatory HMO licensing scheme applies borough wide and additional and selective licensing schemes cover part of the borough. A new additional licensing scheme started on 1 April 2024.