As a landlord it is your responsibility to keep your tenants safe and secure, with fire safety being amongst one of the most important areas to consider. Landlords should not underestimate their legal responsibilities when it comes to fire safety as this really can make the difference between life and death for your tenants.
One area often not given much thought in relation to fire safety is the importance of fire doors. Often fire doors are not given a second glance, but in the event of a fire they can be a vital lifeline for your tenants, as well as minimising property damage, and stopping fire spreading throughout the property.
Fire door safety week, which took place from 23-29 September 2019, provides support, guidance and advice on how to ensure fire doors are correctly identified, installed and maintained in your property. This annual reminder of the importance of fire safety is the perfect time to check over your property, including fire safe doors, to ensure that you are compliant with your legal obligations. Why not also share some fire prevention tips with your tenants?
What is a ‘fire door’?
In the most practical sense a fire door serves the same function as a regular door, however in the event of a fire, it provides a first line of defence for your tenants. Fire doors help to delay the spread of fire and smoke, giving your tenants valuable time to get to safety. When ‘fire safety’ is mentioned many people forget about the devastating effects of smoke inhalation. Smoke travels much faster than fire and can cause disorientation, lack of visibility and breathing problems. Toxic smoke often results in a fatality long before the fire reaches the occupant, and so a secure fire door can also help to prevent the escape of noxious gases.
Fire doors differ from regular doors as they have been rigorously tested and manufactured in accordance with British or European safety standards. They will have supporting evidence for their specification in the form of a safety performance certificate and should be correctly fitted, and maintained, in order to operate effectively.
In the event of a fire, an incorrectly fitted fire door can fail in less than five minutes, dramatically reducing the ability of tenants to get to safety. In comparison, a certified and correctly fitted fire door should be able to hold back fire for 30 minutes or more*. The London Fire Brigade provide detailed guidance on the importance of fire doors, including a video demonstrating the clear and dangerous differences between a regular door and correctly fitted fire door.
For comprehensive fire door guidance, including how they work, their design and specification and safety regulations, download the ‘Fire Door Alliance Fire Doors and Doorsets Best Practice Guide’.
*fire doors may vary, it is important to check your fire door specification and carry out regular maintenance to ensure that there is no damage leading to a reduction in its performance.
What are your obligations as a landlord?
Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), landlords are responsible for ensuring the safety of their tenants and making sure that their properties are fire safe. Landlords can be prosecuted if they fail to meet these requirements and therefore it is extremely important to take your fire safety responsibilities seriously.
Earlier this year a family of four had a lucky escape after their home caught fire in the early hours of the morning. Smoke alarms that had been installed in the property by the landlord, alerted the family, giving them enough time to escape safely with no injuries. There is specific guidance that landlords are required to adhere to in relation to smoke and carbon monoxide alarm regulations.
Landlords are required under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO), to carry out periodical risk assessments in the common areas of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), flats, maisonettes and sheltered accommodation. In addition, all tenants should have easy access to an unrestricted escape route at all times. Correctly installed fire doors will help to aid an escape in the event of a fire.
It is important to note that HMOs require a specific set of fire precautions, including emergency lighting that is able to resist fire, smoke and fumes for long enough for residents to evacuate the property.
HMOs are also required to have at least one fire extinguisher on each floor and at least one fire blanket in each shared kitchen facility. In other residential properties it is not mandatory to provide a fire extinguisher, however it is strongly recommended that landlords do provide them for their tenants and ensure that all fire extinguishers are regularly serviced.
For more information on all landlord fire safety regulation visit the government website – Fire Safety Order (FSO).
You can read more about your fire safety responsibilities here.
Five simple steps for a fire door check
As a landlord you should carry out regular inspections of the property to check for general fire safety as well as checking fire doors.
Landlords can carry out a simple ‘5 step fire door check’ as recommended by Fire Door Safety Week to make sure your fire doors are in good working order.
- Check that your doors are certified. Look out for a label or plug on the top or side of the door in order to ascertain whether the door is a certified fire door. Without a certification mark you cannot be sure that the door will provide adequate protection
- Mind the gaps! Make sure that the gaps around the top and sides of your fire doors are consistently less than 4mm when closed. A good test is to run a £1 coin between the frame and fire door to check. Fire Door Safety Week also points out that the gap under the door can be slightly bigger (up to 8mm), but this is dependent on the type of door you have however you should not be able to see any light under the door. If you can, this is an indication that the gap is too big and could result in smoke escaping. It is always recommended to seek advice from an expert contractor to ensure your door is safe
- Check the seals. All fire doors should have intumescent seals around the door or frame – take a look at the edges to see if you can see this sealant. The seals work by expanding when in contact with heat, which can help to stop fire and smoke leaking through the cracks
- Are your hinges compliant? Fire doors should have three or more firmly fixed hinges. Check to make sure there are no broken or missing screws which could impact on the efficiency of the fire door. This may be caused by wear and tear so it is important to check this on a regular basis
- Does your fire door close correctly? Fire doors should always close completely. A fire door that is obstructed or doesn’t close fully offers no protection. You can test this by opening and letting the door go to assess its range and whether it is obstructed. Remind tenants that they should not block or prop fire doors open
Keeping your tenants up to date with fire safety
Opening up a good line of communication between you and your tenants can help to ensure that any safety issues in the property are rectified before they become a problem.
Some top tips that landlords can share with their tenants include:
- Remind tenants not to overload sockets with multiple appliances
- Suggest that tenants switch off and unplug any appliances they are not using
- When a tenancy begins all smoke alarms must be working, make sure to remind tenants to then test these at regular intervals (once a month) and either change the batteries or get in touch if they are not working
- Remind tenants to keep naked flames, such as candles, away from furnishings and placed in an area where they cannot be easily knocked over
Fire claims are rising
A recent report, ‘10 years of property claims’, conducted by Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance, found that fire is an increasing claims trend. These claims were on an upward trajectory entering into 2019 after dipping around 2015-17. In addition, fires seem to spike significantly around the winter months. With this in mind, landlords should be especially vigilant in reminding their tenants about fire safety during these months.
Fire safety should be a priority for landlords and something that should be adequately assessed and implemented when letting out a property. Following government guidance and legislation is vital for keeping tenants safe, and mitigating against the risk of fire. Fire doors significantly contribute to a reduction in fire related deaths and property damage when installed, used and maintained correctly.
For more information on landlords’ legal obligations read – ‘Legislation for landlords: Everything you need to know’.