• Thomas Marsh

Co-living VS House of multiple occupancy: what are the differences

Updated: Jan 21

The question surrounding the differences between houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) and co-living set-ups comes up all the time. So we have summarised five knock out reasons why co-living is the champion!

Why? Because they both target single individuals and involve living with other people all under one roof. But that’s just about all the similarities these two housing set ups have.

When you dig beneath the surface and you’ll find there’s a few major contrasts. You could say HMO’s are the first generation product for single young professionals or key workers who have been impacted by significant changes in the property market and by their lifestyles choices since 1996.

House price increases and delays in getting married (the average age is now 37), has meant traditional ownership and rental products valued on couple’s income metrics has meant HMOs have been the only affordable options for single individuals.

Spare Room has provided an upgrade to the product, to match personalities and build small social communities but is purpose build co-living the 2nd generation of affordable living for 22-35-year-old city makers?

What is the definition of a HMO?

HMO is a term that’s used to define accommodation that is rented by a number of unrelated individuals, who share basic amenities such as a kitchen, lounge and bathrooms. There are generally 3-6 individuals renting together as known friends or through Spare Room but can be 7 or more.

This accommodation generally used to be family housing, which has been converted since 1996, to provide accommodation for singles who increasingly struggled to get onto the property ladder. There is limited management and generally this type of housing is the poorest quality.

What is the definition of purpose built co-living

Firstly, a co-living space has been created with building a community in mind and customer service at its heart.

Unlike a HMO, co-living is more than just a bedroom you rent with some people and a shared living space attached to it.

The modern housing concept is built on the concept of openness and collaboration and is a lifestyle centred around sharing amazing spaces and values.

It is the solution maximising space effectively with amenities conveniently under one roof in a modern and managed serviced accommodation. This not only provides suitable living accommodation to meet the needs of 22 to 35-year-old’s lifestyles, it also provides cost efficiencies to allow consumers to live affordably closer to work.

Essentially, it’s all about residents with shared interests, intentions and values coming together as a community to cost effectively share amazing spaces like a library, games room, lounges, roof terrace, co-working hubs and bars/cafes whilst having their own space to live in.

Planning differences

The main differences on paper come down to planning considerations as stated in H18 of the draft London plan. The large-scale purpose built shared (co-living) accommodation must be 50+ units of great quality and well-designed space and managed to a good standard – a bit like a hotel.

In contrast, a HMO has planning to utilise an existing family housing to provide multiple 10 sq m bedrooms with a shared standard lounge, kitchen and bathroom

Why does co-living provide a better (best) living experience?

The design and management of co-living defines a much better, and more suitable way to live. You can work and play in a building where you have access to all the many communal spaces whilst having your stylish private space.

Your private space isn’t just a bed. You have your own bathroom, kitchen and lounge. The advantages in comparison to HMO’s is long. You get increased: space, comfort, convenience, suitability, high quality, hassle free and flexible living whilst having a community to rely on.

According to CBRE, co-living is attractive because of the parallels which can be drawn with the ease of student accommodation, hotels and co-working sectors. All of which have experience massive growth in the last 5-10 years.

Comfortable Space

So instead of your bog standard 10 sq m room you might find on Spare Room, co-living can offer 16 to 28sq m’s of private space with an ensuite, kitchen, bedroom and lounge area.

And, that doesn’t even take into account all the extra shared spaces, like a roof top bar, gym, lounges, games room and co-working area.

Convenience & suitability

Co-living allows 22 to 35-year-olds to define their lifestyle with space to meet the need of those who want to explore, learn, create, give, socialise. It’s aim is to create a more fulfilling work life balance, close to work, to increase productivity and creativity of the city makers.

In comparison HMOs defines a way to work, eat and sleep.

High Quality

Co-living is modern, purpose built living designed with the consumer in mind vs HMOs which is retrofit family housing.

It’s no surprise CBRE found 27% of private rented homes across the UK do not currently meet the Government’s Decent Homes Standards.

That’s with 36% built prior to 1919 and complaints against private landlords have risen by nearly 50% since 2008 (thanks to the Global Financial Crisis resulting in a more rapid increase in private renting).


Another benefit of co-living is the service. To put it simply, it’s hassle free living at its finest. The shared nature of co-living allows individuals to save costs on cleaning and bills. Pay just one bill and you get to enjoy events and new experiences.

In comparison to a stressful move in, a few verbal conversations and a stressful move out. Not ideal.


And last, but perhaps the most important, there’s a purpose-built community. To belong in a community, among those with a purpose and interest alike is the core of our human nature.

With co-living you can get to know your neighbours and socialise through managed events or in the numerous interactive, shared space. Cook, play, work together.

In comparison to current residential, research by the Office of National Statistics found that almost 10% of young people were “always or often lonely”, a figure three times higher than those 65 and older. HMOs do provide the most social living scenario on a small scale but there is no quality space to foster this – unless you’re a house of Netflix bingers.


Co-living is the solution for 22 to 35-years-old. It provides them with the best living experience to meet their lifestyle and behavioural needs. All of which in an ecosystem that will foster more experiences, generosity, creativity, friendships and learning for the greater good of key workers and city makers.

Co-living 2.0. You don’t just get all the internal living and external benefits, but also numerous outdoor experiences in the countryside or by the seaside.

Surfing, hiking, skiing, climbing, cycling, mountain biking, art, swimming, yoga and bat and ball.

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