A fire risk assessment is a mandatory requirement for those landlords or agents who control a block of flats or an HMO, where there are communal areas.
It is my contention that landlords with single-lets should also do general risk assessments – see below to download a free risk assessment template.
As more regulations and the “retaliatory eviction” measures, introduced in the Deregulation Act 2015, came into play, landlords need to be armed with strong documentary evidence that: (1) they have fully complied with all the necessary regulations and (2) the property is, and has been throughout a tenancy free from category 1 and 2 hazards*
From October 2015 landlords are required to provide smoke detectors, and also in some circumstances carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, in addition to the need to provide evidence of a current gas safety inspection and a current Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) when applying for a possession order.
Annual gas checks are required where there are gas appliances, and it is suggested (not yet a legal requirement except in Scotland) that electrical appliances and installations be checked at regular intervals as well.
Landlords (and their agents) are under statutory and common law duties which require that there should be no unacceptable level of risk to the health or safety of occupiers or their visitors.
Landlords will be subject to criminal prosecution and liable for damages for personal injury if an accident occurs due to the poor condition of their rental property, both inside and outside, in the grounds. Examples might include: a fall caused by a ripped stair carpet, a broken handrail, a broken garden path or respiratory diseases caused by damp conditions.
Risk should also be assessed with the needs of the occupants in mind, for example if you house elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable people then you need to take into account that they could be at more risk and additional safety measures may have to be taken.
The regulations covering this come under two headings:
- The 2004 Housing Act affecting all rental dwellings, and
- The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Regulations 2005 affecting common parts of commercial and HMO buildings.
Common law specifies that the “responsible person” ensures that a property is safe. This will usually be the landlord, but it could include a professional agent where they are retained to manage a property.
The key to a risk assessment is that you can demonstrate that (1) you have considered and identified hazards, (2) that you have considered who is at risk (3) that you have identified what needs to be done to minimise any risks, (4) that you have prioritised further action.
You might identify a frayed electrical cord on an appliance, burn marks on an electric socket, or polystyrene ceiling tiles in a kitchen area. All represent potential risks to occupants and need to be dealt with.
In the case of common areas of flats, HMOs and commercial premises, such things as emergency lighting, fire exit signage and fire extinguishers must be in place and regularly checked and serviced – the fire alarm system and emergency lighting should be checked every 6 months. The fire alarm system should be tested every week. An Emergency Action Plan should be placed in a prominent position in the property (usually behind the main entrance door) so the occupants are pre-warned what to do and who to contact in case of fire or other emergency.
Times between tenancies and during periodic inspections should include risk assessments or follow ups to ensure that safety requirements are complied with the by occupants, and that no additional hazards or risks have emerged.
Proving that you have complied with regulations and have minimised hazards in your rental property, should you be called on to prove it, all comes down to one important thing: DOCUMENTARY EVIDENCE.
Should, in the unfortunate event that there is an accident, or that you have a dispute with your tenant, particularly about repair or safety hazards, then a record that you made a comprehensive in-going inventory and a risk assessment, followed up where appropriate, will be absolute “gold dust” as evidence in court.
Building a record of successful, safe and satisfied occupancy can be a very useful long-term strategy with a rental property. For example, should a tenant come along complaining about damp and mould (and some do) when this has never occurred in a property with previous tenancies, you can be sure this is a lifestyle issue with the tenants. But this is very difficult to prove without good documentary evidence. My suggestion is:
(1) Build-up and keep a long-term record of inventories and general risk assessments for a property through successive tenancies, and
(2) Get tenants to complete a satisfaction questionnaire on leaving and before you agree to return the deposit.
Fire regulations in HMOs are enforced by local fire authorities (the fire officer) and general safety in all rentals (HHSRS) is enforced by local authority housing officers (environmental health) who can issue (1) a warning know as a Notification of Deficiency, an Enforcement Notice requiring immediate action, or a Prohibition Notice which prevents further occupation pending improvements.
The authorities will appreciate those landlords and agents who cooperate with them and will be happy to advise on fire and general safety measures free of charge.
We have produced an example risk assessment template and a satisfaction questionnaire template for general use – download here
* Category 1 & 2 hazards refer to hazards identified under the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS) which will prevent a tenant being evicted if they are present in a property. HHSRS is a 29 category risk-based evaluation tool to help local authorities identify and protect against potential risks.