Fire Regulations in Rentals:

There are several regulations relating to fire safety within rental dwellings; some affect all dwellings whereas others apply mainly to Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO).

This looks complicated, but fire safety management in reality boils down to common sense, making sure you meet certain requirements, and for all your rental premises doing regular checks for hazards, with ideally a written risk assessment.

This article applies primarily to English law. Although tenancy laws are similar in other jurisdictions, there may be significant differences. Always seek professional advice before making or not making important decisions.

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A house in multiple occupation (HMO) is a property rented to at least 3 people who are not from 1 “household” (e.g. a family) but sharing facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. This is sometimes called a “house share”, (e.g. student house) which may or may not need a local authority license. Large HMOs of 3 stories or more and housing 5 or more unrelated people need a Mandatory Licence from the local authority. The are plans proposed to make all HMOs licensable.

Regulations which apply to rented premises:

  1. Building Regulations 2010 Part B. These apply only with new buildings, extensions and alterations, but also to services e.g. electricity, sanitation and water. These out the requirements for fire warning, means of escape, preventing fire spread, fire separation between different parts and access facilities to assist fire fighters.
  2. Housing Health & Safety Rating System (“HHSRS”) – Fire is included in the 29 hazards covered by the system introduced by Housing Act 2004.
  3. The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 – apply to all rented dwellings
  4. Fire Safety Order – the full title is The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
  5. The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006 – applies to all HMOs – Bedsits and shared houses.
  6. The Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Additional Provisions) (England) Regulations 2007 apply to buildings converted into self-contained flats not complying with Building Regulations 1991 or later.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, June 2005, effective from 1 October 2006 affects all non-domestic (commercial) premises in England and Wales including HMOs and came into force on 1 October 2006. This legislation replaced the need for the now obsolete Fire Certificates, and is a form of self-assessment for fire safety.

Who is Responsible for compliance?

Ultimately the landlord is the “responsible person” who must make sure the legislation is complied with. However, a managing agent who collects rent can be held responsible for ensuring that the legislation is observed.

The legislation uses two technical terms: the “person having control” and the “person managing” but confusingly, the latter is not the same as the manager of the property. Where a property is not licensed when it should be, or if, in the case of an HMO license, the maximum permitted number is exceeded, the person having control and the person managing can both be prosecuted for the property.

The person managing is responsible for ensuring that the management regulations are observed. The license holder (usually the landlord) also has various responsibilities under the legislation, including seeing that the license conditions are observed.

HMO Landlords (or their managing agents) must carry out a Fire Risk Assessment for each property but no particular system or method of fire risk assessment is mandatory; instead the Fire Safety Order concentrates on achieving satisfactory outcomes.

The objective is to identify and evaluate all fire risks to which tenants and visitors are exposed and create a “suitable and sufficient” – ideally a written – fire risk assessment. Whilst the legislation does not define suitable and sufficient it is generally considered that a risk assessment should follow this five step approach:

  1. Identify fire hazards
  2. Identify people at risk
  3. Evaluate, remove or reduce, and protect from risk
  4. Record, plan, inform, instruct and train
  5. Review your fire risk assessment regularly and make changes where necessary

The main fire provisions in single occupation domestic rented premises:

  • Smoke alarms on every floor level as a minimum, ideally hard wired or 10 year lithium battery ones – a legal requirement.
  • A fire escape plan especially on 1st or 2nd floors should be a consideration combined with smoke alarms and emergency access to door/window locks and keys.
  • Any furniture should be fire retardant and meet the furniture regulations.
  • Any highly flammable surfaces and substances should be removed, polystyrene tiles being one example.
  • The electric wiring system and appliances should be checked at regular intervals and all sockets and leads given a visual inspection for signs of burning or misuse.
  • Any open fires should be protected with fire guards and of course CO detectors supplied.
  • Fire safety in the kitchen, such as fire blankets and fire extinguishers can be supplied, though not a legal requirement in single lets.
  • Gas appliances must be checked annually and a Gas Safety Certificate issued.
  • Although not a legal requirement, it’s a good idea to produce a written risk assessment following the checklist between every tenancy.

The main provisions in HMOs

With HMOs and non-domestic premises a higher degree of fire safety management is called for in the regulations, including:

  • A hard wired fire alarm system and safety lighting with weekly testing drills, 6-monthly servicing intervals and regular fire emergency drills.
  • Half hour protection fire doors with closers and intumescent strip seals.
  • Clear exit signposting and unobstructed emergency lighted fire escape routes which may require the provision of a fire barriers between the common areas and the living accommodation, especially cooking areas, to create a protected route to a place of ultimate safety.
  • Eliminate all obstructions in common areas and escape routes, for example, packages, bicycles, rubbish etc.
  • Consider the need for fire detectors and warning systems to be extended into the living and sleeping areas.
  • Complete an annual fire risk assessment for the shared or common areas including shared stairways, landings, kitchens, bathrooms etc., and eliminate or reduce risk to the lowest possible level.
  • Consider recording, planning, informing, instruction training which will require producing a fire action plan.

Given the complexity and local variations in these fire safety requirements it is recommended that landlords always consult their local authority housing or fire safety officer for an on-site inspection and specific advice.

Specific Licensing Conditions.

Basic fire safety conditions as above are required if the premises require a local authority licence under Housing Act 2004, and Councils have discretion subject to appeal to impose their own additional fire requirements.

There are 3 types of licence.

Mandatory Licence – applies to HMOs of 3 or more storeys and occupied by 5 or more persons who occupy as 2 or more households. Applies to all areas of England and Wales.

Additional Licensing (HMO) – discretionary scheme which a Council may apply by Declaration which can apply to any HMO, other than those requiring Mandatory Licensing. Council has discretion on the extent of the area affected and the type of HMO e.g. could limit to HMOs with only 4 persons, or could apply to all others.

Selective Licensing – a discretionary scheme may be applied by the local Council’s Declaration to any rented dwellings which are not a HMO – family/single households – and may cover all or part of the Council’s district.

Useful Guides:

Housing Health and Safety Rating System – Operating Guidance – https://goo.gl/uknbo4

Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) – Housing Fire Safety Guide – https://goo.gl/YJkhQa

Example risk assessment for maintenance of flats – www.hse.gov.uk/risk/casestudies/pdf/flats.pdf

Landlords’ responsibility for gas safety – www.hse.gov.uk/gas/landlords

You will find example Fire Risk Assessment templates in the LandlordZONE® Documents here: https://www.landlordzone.co.uk/documents

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