Dear Barry

I own a 5-bedroom house in South Belfast – it is HMO registered for another five years, having recently passed its renewal. I wanted to know what your thoughts were on renting out each of the rooms individually to tenants. This is how I have previously managed my HMO properties - I have issued tenancy agreements, advertised the rooms and rent has been transferred to me online. My family have assisted with viewings and organising repairs.   I’d love to get your take on the pros and cons of this approach vs one tenancy agreement for the property as a whole. Kind Regards, Sharon
Ask Barry Image

Hi Sharon,

Thanks so much for getting in touch, and it’s an interesting question. The short answer to your initial query – my thoughts on your renting the rooms individually – are that it is probably the less desirable of your options, from a property management point of view.

There are of course reasons why landlords go down this road with houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs). Depending on the property’s location and the demographics, you can find single rooms will be very popular. Even renting a tiny flat can be prohibitively expensive when you are renting by yourself; it is usually cheaper to house-share.

So, sharing the cost of renting a house without sharing a tenancy agreement with a group of other people is the ideal situation for many a single tenant. For that reason, the main pro of renting like this is that your property should be easy enough to fill, therefore it is less likely to have voids.

This has its obvious attractions for a landlord. However, I believe there are significant potential drawbacks. In my experience, these individual room renters can sometimes be socially isolated individuals who are are not always easy tenants.

Also, refer to this letter I received in 2016 about a tenant not paying rent. In our experience, when chasing a late rental payment, once we get to the stage of notifying the household that one payment is behind, this is often enough for the housemates to come together and ‘gee along’ the late payer.

They don’t want to risk their tenancy, so often they get their mate to get their act together; maybe even help them out if they’re in financial diffs. You are unlikely to experience the same group accountability in an HMO rented out by the room.

Think also about maintenance and repairs. It can be very difficult to maintain cleanliness and maintenance in shared areas of a house rented by the room. The space the tenant really cares about is their own room in that house; their sanctuary.

They may not value the shared spaces as much as they value their own little corner of that property, so they may not take as much pride in the upkeep of those communal areas.

Tenants’ deposits must now be protected – so what do you do if something in a communal area is damaged and there is a dispute over who caused the damage?

Which of your five individually registered and protected tenant deposits will pay for it? How do you manage inventories in a house where tenancies will potentially begin and end while others are ongoing? You can read more about your responsibilities under the TDS here.

In summary, whichever option you go for, make sure your process for finding tenants and managing tenancies is robust. You can read my guide to onboarding new tenants here.


Do you have experience in renting HMO properties by the room? Do you agree or disagree with my advice? I’d love to hear your thoughts – get in touch by emailing, join the conversation on my Facebook page or Twitter, or simply pop in to the office at 197 Lisburn Road. I’ll never turn away a friendly face bearing a strong, hot coffee!