What are the fire safety regulations for landlords? worker fitting a smoke detector

What are the fire safety regulations for landlords?

Kate Faulkner breaks down the landlord fire safety regulations in detail, including electrical fire safety rules.

Since the start of the 21st Century, there has been a dramatic increase in the health and safety rules and regulations that landlords need to follow. It’s essential that your property’s electrics and gas have safety certificates and you do all you can to protect your tenants from the risk of fire.

In addition to knowing the current rules and regulations, you also have to keep up to date with any changes. These may be triggered by a court case or could simply be improvements in general safety legislation. Changes can be imposed nationally, at country level (Scotland, N. Ireland, Wales or England) or even just locally via your local authority.

If you don’t keep up with and follow these regulations, you could end up with tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of fines. Or even worse, you’re tenant could get injured. If you think that’s unlikely to happen to you, just search online for ‘landlord jailed for fire safety breaches’. The search results show plenty of landlords are being fined and even jailed for not complying with the latest fire safety standards.

What are the fire safety regulations for rented properties?

The fire safety regulations for rented properties are laid out in various Acts and the requirements can vary from one country to another. Below are the key laws that you should be aware of and must follow as a landlord.

The Housing Act 2004, including the Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

This lays down the main requirements of fire safety in a rented home. The rules include ensuring tenants can escape easily in the case of a fire and making repairs to the fabric of the property (such as ceilings) in a timely manner so fire can’t spread easily to other rooms.

Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988/1989, 1993 and 2010

These rules are particularly relevant if your property is let to tenants furnished. The regulations apply to things like sofas, sofa beds, mattresses and even bean bags.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005)

These regulations cover fire safety in shared communal areas, for example in a block of flats.

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015

These rules set out the requirements for landlords to ensure that there are warning systems within the property to alert the tenant in case of fire. They vary between the different countries within the UK.

Building Regulations

You need to be aware that building regulations impact on fire safety. This is especially important if you’re refurbishing a property before letting it out as you have to make sure you follow the latest rules and regulations. Even if you’re employing people to do the work, it’s still your responsibility to ensure the work they do meets lettings standards, not simply those of a homeowner.

Finally, if you have a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), even if it’s unlicensed, you will need to also follow additional, more specific fire safety rules and regulations. These include providing fire extinguishers and fire blankets. The precise requirements can vary from one local authority to another, so it’s best to check what they are with your local council housing department.

What are a landlord’s specific fire safety responsibilities?

As always with lettings, the devil is in the detail. However, the overriding principle when it comes to tenant safety is to make sure that if anything does happen, you can prove to your local housing officer or to a court that you did everything that could reasonably be expected of you to protect your tenant.

There are lots of things you can do to prevent a fire. You can also make sure that if one does break out your tenants have plenty of warning so they can get out safely.

The Housing Act 2004, including the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

There are key rules and regulations within the HHSRS that relate to fire safety. As a landlord you need to ensure where you can that your tenants are protected from accidents such as electric shocks, fires, burns and scalds.

Your responsibilities include:

  • 1. Keeping escape routes clear and checking your tenants understand they need to do the same
  • 2. Making sure there are no fire hazards near areas where fires may start. For example, ensuring electrical leads and tea towels are not kept near ovens/hobs and combustible objects are not stored near boilers or fuse boxes
  • 3. Only allow a ‘spark’ type device to be used when lighting a gas cooker, as opposed to matches
  • 4. Checking appliances have had a PAT (Portable appliance test) annually
  • 5. Ensure electrical appliances have a British or European safety mark.

Some of the rules and regulations around health and safety can be interpreted differently by representatives at different local authorities. So to ensure you comply, talk to your local housing enforcement officer about the key things they look for.

Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988/1989, 1993 and 2010

From a landlord’s perspective, meeting the fire safety regulations mostly requires you to check for the appropriate display labels that manufacturers are legally required to supply. The only items that may not have them are mattresses, bed-bases, pillows, cushions and covers. So do check for these labels when you buy furniture and furnishings.

It’s also important to check when you make periodical inspections that your tenant hasn’t taken these labels off for any reason or replaced items without you knowing. Record any changes on the inventory in writing and take photos as well.

One of the reasons an inventory is so especially important in this case is it provides an independent record of what you actually put in the property. So if a fire were to break out because of something a tenant had added that wasn’t safe from a fire perspective, you could prove that it wasn’t your fault.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

In order to ensure your property meets fire safety standards, you have to be able to properly assess the potential fire risks. You can do this by educating yourself to the extent that you can be considered a ‘competent person’ to make such an assessment. Or you can hire a third party who’s already classed as a ‘competent person’, such as a professionally qualified Fire Risk Assessor.

The first Safety Order is essential, but not always easy to do. This involves making sure communal areas such as landings, stairways and kitchens are kept clear of combustibles. If they are, people can escape quickly and it reduces the risk of fire in the escape routes.

Practically, this can be hard to enforce because, regardless of how diligent you are, your tenants won’t always understand or follow the rules. In this case, it’s important to explain fire safety to them and put something in writing, so that you can prove you have done your best to ensure communal areas are kept free of fire risks and hazards.

And it’s important for you to be aware that claiming “I didn’t know” to an enforcement officer or a court isn’t going to help your defence. In fact, it can have quite the opposite effect.

The best way to abide by these regulations is to carry out periodical risk assessments. If you do, you can prove you considered everything that could cause a fire and all the different ways that tenants could be warned of fire or smoke in the property.

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015

These can vary from one country to another, so it’s important to check with your local housing officer what they expect you do to.

To help protect your tenant, it’s a good idea to adopt an attitude of doing ‘everything you can’ rather than just the ‘minimum’. For example, having smoke alarms on each floor is now a requirement throughout the UK, but Scotland has gone further, requiring:

  • 1. A functioning smoke alarm in rooms used for daytime living
  • 2. One smoke alarm in hallways and landings
  • 3. A heat alarm in the kitchen
  • 4. All alarms to be interlinked, i.e. wired

There is nothing to say this level of fire safety won’t be adopted by England, Wales and Northern Ireland at some point in the future. If you implement it now you’ll show you’ve gone ‘over and above’ the required minimum.

For carbon monoxide alarms, currently in England, the law states you only need to install them if “the house which is used wholly or partly as living accommodation contains a solid fuel burning combustion appliance”.

However, there is nothing to stop you from installing a carbon monoxide alarm in of your property, even if you have electric or gas heating. It’s only a few pounds and can help ensure you never end up in a situation where you have to defend yourself to a housing enforcement officer or, worse still, a court, if your tenant were to suffer carbon monoxide poisoning.

Also, it’s best to get a qualified Part P and Gas Safe Engineer to install the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Or, you can install them yourself and have an engineer check them the next time they’re carrying out work at your property. Then you can prove you had independent, expert checks made on the equipment to ensure it was correctly installed and in good working order.

Finally, if the property is in England, these alarms need to be checked on the day the tenant moves in, to make sure they’re in proper working order. You must also secure proof that they were checked on that day.

If you have gone above and beyond the rules and regulations to protect your tenant, not only are fires and other accidents less likely to happen, but you also have a much better defence if something does go wrong.

How to carry out landlord safety checks

Part of keeping up to date with fire safety is knowing where to turn for help and advice on keeping on top of the changing rules and regulations.

For example, just because an agent lets a property, it doesn’t mean they know the rules. Ideally, work with an ARLA, NALS or RICS member agent, as they are far more likely to keep up with the laws. You should also check their lettings qualifications as the better their qualifications, the more likely they are to know how to protect you.

It’s also worth double checking with the agent whether their terms and conditions mean they take responsibility for any fire safety breaches. If you’re still responsible, you will need to quiz them about the work they do to ensure your property meets the necessary standards.

Apart from that, each country has its own rules and regulations so it’s vital that you keep referring to the latest information to make sure your checks are up to date:

For England, Scotland and Wales, visit:
http://homesafetyguidance.co.uk/landlord-legal-requirements - which has specific checklists for you to follow, to help demonstrate you have carried out the necessary risk assessments.

For Scotland, visit:
https://rentingscotland.org/landlords-guide/renting-your-property-out/getting-property-ready

For Wales, you must be aware that you cannot manage a property from November 2016 unless you been on an approved management course or engaged a company or agent that has. Visit https://www.rentsmart.gov.wales/en/ for more information.

For Northern Ireland, visit:
http://www.housingadviceni.org/advice-private-tenants/fire-safety-responsibilities

A further helpful document on fire safety for landlords can be found here: http://www.cieh.org/library/Knowledge/Housing/National_fire_safety_guidance_08.pdf

Also, Bluewatch is a home safety scheme set up by the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) through CFOA Blue Watch Ltd, which is supported by UK fire and rescue services (FRS). They provide help and support to landlords to ensure you have the right safety equipment and do as much as you can to protect your property and your tenant.

Fire safety in flats

If you own a flat, then it’s your responsibility to carry out all the necessary checks, as above, for the flat itself. However, if you own a whole block of flats, you will have responsibility for the communal areas as well as the internal space within each property.

You will have to ensure that someone is responsible for the overall fire safety in your block of flats. That may be your managing agent, but you still need to specifically ask what precautions they’re taking and what checks they’re making.

For example, as a landlord of one flat or a block, you will have to make sure the front doors comply with fire safety regulations, which can include fitting self-closing devises, ensuring the door is fire proof and that any paint used is also fire retardant.

For more information on fire safety in blocks of flats, visit http://arma.org.uk/downloader/f1r.pdf.

Fire safety in Houses of Multiple Occupation

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), especially if they require a licence, will have enhanced fire safety rules, over and above the ones already highlighted. For HMOs you should do everything you can (as opposed to the legal minimum) to protect your property and tenants. This is due to the local nature of enforcement on HMOs and the many reasons why things can go wrong, especially when there are lots of people living together who may not know each other.

For HMOs this should include:

  • 1. Keeping all exits clear from obstructions
  • 2. Making sure the required equipment, such as fire extinguishers (one on each floor), blankets (especially in the kitchen) and fire alarms are all installed properly and in good working condition
  • 3. Clearly marking fire exits and making sure instructions on what to do in case of a fire are clearly available to tenants, ideally displayed on the wall in a communal area
  • 4. Making sure you have annual gas safety checks
  • 5. Having the electrics checked at least once every five years.

Summary

It’s incredibly important for landlords to follow fire safety requirements. Whether you take full responsibility yourself or outsource it to someone else, you must still be able to provide evidence you have done everything that can reasonably be expected to protect your property and tenant from fire and smoke damage.

The main thing for you to think about, as a landlord, is doing everything you can to protect your asset (your property) as well as your tenants, not just the legal minimum. You should be confident that if a fire does occur, your tenants will be alerted in time for them to escape, or if there is a chance of carbon monoxide poisoning, they will be warned before any damage can occur from this silent killer.

Always keep up to date and ask for help and advice from your local authority to make sure you’re following the latest rules and regulations.

Landlord Insurance Rental Road Kate Faulkner
Kate Faulkner

Kate Faulkner
ADDED: 28 Oct 2016