Fire is among the most prominent risks to homeowners and occupiers – and its effects can be catastrophic and devastating. Every year, there are over 50,000 fires in dwellings in the UK. In recent years, health and safety regulations for property landlords have been dramatically stepped up to ensure everything possible is being done to protect tenants from the risk of fire.
Here, we take a detailed look at the fire safety regulations and laws for rented properties and outline where a landlord’s responsibilities start and end.
Property ownership and the role of the responsible person
Where fire safety is concerned, landlords have similar legal obligations to employers for ensuring the protection of those residing in and using the premises. However, legislation can vary depending on the type of tenancy.
Where any legislation discusses required activities of the ‘responsible person’, if you own or manage the property, that wording is referring to you – you are the responsible person. This means it’s your legal duty to comply with legislation and regulations to ensure the protection of all residents from the risk of fire.
As well as accounting for all checks on gas and electrical equipment and ensuring the existence of up-to-date safety certificates, it’s a landlord’s responsibility to oversee all fire safety regulations are met. Private sector landlords need to provide a smoke alarm on each storey of the building and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room housing a solid fuel burning appliance. It’s also your responsibility to ensure occupants of the building have access to an escape route at all times and that all furniture and furnishings supplied are fire-safe.
It’s all in the detail
In mixed-use premises where unrelated occupiers live independently from one another but share common areas, landlords will need to comply with various regulations including the Housing Act 2004, Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005). The latter requires that all landlords must carry out a fire risk assessment on every property they rent out. This entails identifying possible dangers and risks, as well particular people who may be at risk, and removing those risks and providing general fire precautions to deal with any possible risk left. Following completion of the fire risk assessment, findings should be recorded, actions taken and the assessment should be reviewed regularly. It’s good practice to review it at least annually.
In the event of fire in the home, a person is at least four times more likely to die if it is without a working smoke alarm . It’s for this reason the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 came into force and require private sector landlords to install at least one smoke alarm on every storey and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel burning appliance. These vital pieces of equipment aren’t optional.
The landlord is responsible for making sure all alarms are in working order at the start of every new tenancy. However, these rules vary between countries in the UK. While an occupant is in tenancy, it’s usually their responsibility to check – monthly – that the alarms remain in working order and change the batteries if needed. The landlord should make sure the tenant is aware of what’s required for the monthly test and a log book should be filled in to record the dates (and results of each check).
The Housing Act 2004 and the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS), which sits within it, requires landlords to ensure where possible that tenants aren’t at risk of accidents like electric shocks, fires, burns and scalds. That includes ensuring escapes routes are known and kept clear at all times and making sure there aren’t any fire hazards in areas of potential fire risk, including safe siting for cookers and electrical socket outlets.
Further fire safety considerations and responsibilities
Aside from the set-in-stone legislation (for which ignorance won’t be considered a reason for non-compliance), there are other things landlords can be mindful of. For example, you should be confident that all outside doors can be easily opened at all times from the inside and all escape routes should be kept clear at all times.
Gas Safety (Installations and Use) Regulations 1998 relates to use of gas appliances, fittings and flues in domestic and commercial premises. It requires landlords to take on three main legal responsibilities – gas safety checks, a gas safety record and maintenance. Meanwhile, Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994 requires landlords to certify and evidence that all electrical appliances and systems provided as part of the tenancy are safe. And The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 requires that all furniture and furnishings (excluding carpets, curtains and duvets) provided by a landlord must meet set levels of fire resistance.
Landlords who own or manage blocks of flats should ensure residents and visitors are kept informed with appropriate signage placed around the building. In the event of a fire, residents should be clear on the location of the fire assembly point, directions towards fire exits and any other actions that should be taken.
If you’re a landlord and at all unsure about your responsibilities, speak with your local authority or seek advice from your local Fire and Rescue Service.