Fire Safety in Rental Property
Fire safety within the home and in commercial property is an important issue for landlords, especially in shared premises. These may be houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) where unrelated occupiers live independently from one another, or mixed use residential and commercial premises where the occupiers share common areas of the same building.
This area of law is covered by various acts of parliament and regulations in England and Wales, with similar rules for Scotland, Northerm Ireland and other jurisdictions.
The introduction of the Housing Act 2004 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 has placed responsibility on landlords, property managers and “responsible persons” in charge of buildings, for fire safety and both local housing authorities and fire and rescue authorities to enforce reasonable fire safety provisions within multiple occupied housing and commercial premises.
To promote the efficient use of resources, a new fire safety protocol sets down a framework within which both authorities can establish effective working arrangements, thereby achieving the goal of improving fire safety. The guidance has been developed by LACORS in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) and the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA).
Officials in Communities and Local Government (CLG) have also provided considerable technical support and the guidance contains a foreword from the Fire and Housing Ministers in CLG.
A Comprehensive Guide for Landlords & Property Managers
The definitive guidance on fire safety for residential housing is now provided by the LACORS – FIRE SAFETY: guidance on fire safety provisions for certain types of existing housing. See the link below.
This guidance helps to manage the relationship between the Housing Act 2004 and the Fire Safety Order by offering advice and assistance to enforcers, landlords, managing agents and tenants, amongst others, on ways to make residential buildings safe from fire, regardless of which piece of legislation is relevant.
When it comes to fire safety, everyone involved has an interest, so all landlords with these types of premises should read this guidance, ensure they are aware of their responsibilities to carry out a fire risk assessment when and where necessary, and make sure their property has adequate and appropriate fire safety measures in place.
The document contains guidance for landlords and fire safety enforcement officers in both local housing authorities (LHAs) and in fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) on how to ensure adequate fire safety in certain types of residential accommodation.
It offers practical advice on fire risk assessment and contains case studies with suggested fire safety solutions. Appendix 1 provides an overview of the legal framework in relation to fire safety, but landlords should be able to comply with fire safety requirements without a detailed knowledge of the legal framework.
Where necessary, advice on enforcement matters can be sought from the LHA, FRA or appropriate landlord associations. Definitive interpretation of the legislative requirements can only be made by the relevant court or tribunal. The guidance applies to England, but Welsh statutory requirements are very similar and so the general guidance on fire risk assessment may also be relevant in Wales.
However, regulations do now apply to furniture and furnishings and fire alarms. It would be wise to discuss the fire safety aspects with your local fire prevention officer and follow the advice given.
Landlords are under a common law duty in additional to the statutory provisions to ensure that the property they provide is safe. All residential properties in England and Wales should comply with building regulations on aspects such as:
Means of emergency escape, particularly where sleeping accommodation is provided on 2nd and 3rd floors
Fire doors and emergency exits, passages and escape routes
Fire alarms and fire extinguishers
Local Building Inspectors and Fire Prevention Officers will advise landlords on these aspects.
As a minimum, landlords should remove potentially dangerous appliances and heaters and fit smoke alarms. A fire extinguisher and kitchen fire blanket might also be a wise precaution.
It is now recommended that fire extinguishers should not be used by untrained persons i.e. residents/tenants, therefore do not place them in common areas. LACoRS recommends fire blankets in kitchen bedsits and a general purpose extinguisher on each landing in HMO.
An annual safety check (risk assessment) is a wise precaution for any landlord or agent even where it is not strictly required to meet the regulations, ie in single lets. Documenting this on a change of tenancy or on an annual basis will provide adequate evidence of due diligence on the landlord’s or agent’s part in the event of an incident. Doing this also provides landlords with an opportunity to inspect their tenanted premises and keeps tenants on their toes. It is also a legal requirement under the fire safety order to periodically review the fire risk assessment.
The building regulations require that all properties built after June 1992 must have a mains operated inter-connected smoke alarms fitted on every level of the property.
Older properties do not have to comply but landlords are well advised to provide at least battery operated smoke alarms in the property.
It is important to determine who is responsible for testing and maintaining the smoke alarms – the landlord, agent or tenant. If the agent is to be responsible, this should be noted in the management contract. If the tenant is to be made responsible for this then adequate warnings should be included in the letting agreement or in an additional notice.
Also, documents such as the tenancy agreement, the inventory and the appliance operating instruction and emergency procedures information pack given to tenants, should mention the responsibility of the tenant to test and replace batteries in smoke alarms when fitted.
There is no compulsory requirement to provide fire extinguishers or fire blankets in single occupation tenanted properties, but again, this may be a wise precaution, at least in the kitchen area.
Having made the decision to provide fire extinguishers though, the landlord or agent must then arrange for regular servicing – usually on a 12 monthly basis. They should also not be used by untrained persons.
In the event of a tenant complaint or an incident the defence of “due diligence” may be accepted where it can be shown that the landlord or agent took all reasonable steps to avoid committing an offence – you will of course need documentary evidence of this.
Communities and Local Government (CLG) has policy responsibility for fire safety in all non-domestic premises (including the common parts of blocks of flats and houses in multiple occupation) in England. The Scottish Government and Welsh Assembly Government have similar responsibilities in Scotland and Wales.
Fire safety in England and Wales is covered by legislation contained in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (‘the Order’). In Scotland, fire safety duties are contained in Part 3 of the
Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, as amended, and the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006.
The legislation includes a mandatory risk based approach to fire safety in community, industrial and business premises. It requires the responsible person (usually the employer, owner (landlord) or occupier or sometimes a combination of the two) to carry out a fire safety risk assessment and implement appropriate fire precautionary and protection measures, and to maintain a fire management plan. The scope of the risk assessment process can be dependent upon the number of occupiers.
Fire and Rescue Authorities are the principal enforcers and have a statutory duty to enforce the requirements of the legislation.
Further information on application of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 in England and Wales is available on the CLG and Welsh Assembly Government web sites, along with detailed guidance on how to ensure compliance in a range of businesses premises.
The Building Regulations 2000 deal with building controls in new and altered premises. These define the types of buildings and building work which are subject to controls and specify the requirements for building design and construction.
This will include the health and safety of building users, energy conservation, access and facilities for the disabled, and fire safety including means of warning; escape routes; internal and external fire spread.
Landlords and developers should consult their local authority building control departments.
Note: In purpose built flats or maisonettes, built in accordance with modern building regulations, it is assumed that a fire will generally be confined to the dwelling. This is because there is a high degree of compartmentation and a low probability of fire spread beyond the dwelling of origin. It is further assumed that there will be good risk reduction and arson reduction measures and that the materials and construction of the escape routes should prevent the fabric of the building from being involved.
For these reasons common areas are not usually fitted with a fire detection and warning systems, (although self-contained smoke alarms should normally be fitted within each accommodation unit), as simultaneous evacuation of the building is unlikely to be necessary.
Where a property has been converted to self-contained flats, bedsits or a HMO and the conversion is NOT in accordance with current building regulations a common “mixed” fire detection system will generally be required. Specialist advice from a competent fire safety consultant should be sought and the level and type of detection based on the outcome of the fire risk assessment.
Fire Safety Consultants – Total Fire Services Ltd – FREE Consultations and Fire Risk Assessment advice offered to landlords. Remember it is your legal duty to comply with the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005. Our services include fire alarm installations/maintenance, emergency lighting, fire safety training, fire extinguisher sales and maintenance. Call 01204 844278 for FREE friendly professional advice.
- A Short Guide to Making Your Premises Safe From Firm
- Housing Fire safety – LACORS
- Fire Safety Scotland
- Fire Safety Norther Ireland
- Fire Safety in HMOs
By Darren Baird, of Total Fire Services
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©LandlordZONE All Rights Reserved – never rely totally on these general guidelines which apply primarily to England and Wales. They are not definitive statements of the law. Before taking action or not, always do your own research and/or seek professional advice with the full facts of your case and all documents to hand.