Fire safety – what landlords need to know
In the latest available figures from the government’s Home Office, there were 29,750 domestic house fires in the year 2018/19. Of those, 253 people tragically died, with a further 7,160 injuries requiring treatment.
Thankfully deaths have been falling year on year, but it’s vital for landlords to meet all the rules and do everything they can to prevent fires, with the focus on saving lives rather than property.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires landlords to “eliminate or reduce the risk of fire as far as is reasonably practical”.
Here’s what you need to know for single lets, with a mention of multi-tenant properties as well.
Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors
This is covered by the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Amendment) Regulations 2022.
All landlords must make sure there’s at least one smoke alarm on each storey of their home where there is a room used as living accommodation. They must also make sure that there’s a carbon monoxide detector in any room which has a fixed combustion appliance.
In practice the CO detector needs to be put in any room which houses a gas boiler, coal fire or wood burning stove. It doesn’t apply to gas cookers, but it’s a good idea to have a detector close to the cooker anyway. Again, going beyond the regulations, it’s good practice to install a heat detector in the kitchen. This won’t go off if someone burns the toast, but it will alert tenants to an actual fire.
By the way, wood burners are all the rage just now. But as well as complying with local authority rules, anything put in after 2011 needs an installation certificate, and you should tell your insurer.
Recommended alarms are compliant with British Standards BS 5839-6 – it will usually say so on the packaging. You can choose mains –powered (“hard wired”) versions or battery-powered. There are now “sealed for life” battery versions where the battery cannot be removed. These should last around 10 years.
Tip: use an inventory to prove compliance
Landlords are responsible for testing the alarms at the start of each new tenancy and repairing or replacing if there are faults. It’s a good idea to do this in front of the tenants and keep a written record which can be signed by all parties and can also be made part of the inventory.
Considerate landlords should consider providing sturdy step-stools, or a safe stepladder if there are high ceilings, to test and switch off ringing alarms – there’s nothing more calculated to annoy the neighbours!
The best place for smoke alarms is on the ceiling of halls and landings. CO detectors are portable and are best put on a wall or shelf around head height and about 1-3 metres away from the source of potential emissions.
Consider sharing the manufacturer’s instructions with the tenants.
The same rules cover unlicensed HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation). But if your HMO requires a licence, in practice the local authority rules will be the same as a minimum – and they may add extra requirements. There are other rules affecting HMOs including fire doors, emergency lighting and lots more. Contact your council if you are going down this route.
The rules apply to soft furnishings you have supplied as a landlord, and not to tenants’ own possessions.
Sofas and covers supplied with them must have a manufacturer’s label stating their fire resistance. Surprisingly, this doesn’t apply to mattresses and bed bases. Nor does it apply to pillows, cushions and bedcovers.
In practice it is much safer to make sure all items have fire-resistance labels, and it’s not recommended to buy second-hand furniture which is missing its labels.
Escape routes & firefighting
You should make sure that “escape routes” – ie hallways, stairs and landings – are not cluttered with, for example, bins, bicycles or suitcases. Try to ensure there’s space for these items in other parts of the premises.
If you have a single-let rental rather than an HMO, you don’t have to provide fire extinguishers or fire blankets. Think about having them anyway – powder or CO2 are best for extinguishers. None of them can be used on fires involving metal. Make sure tenants have instructions – but remind them it’s not their duty to fight fires, as it may be safest to leave the property.
If you would like to reduce risks or put together a fire plan, your local fire and rescue service can advise.
And the rest!
If you provide electrical equipment, even if it’s just a kettle, you could consider PAT testing once a year by an electrician or certified tester – this doesn’t cost much. Again, you can make this part of the inventory. There is no legal requirement to do this, however.
What’s mandatory is an EICR – Electrical Installation Condition Report – done by a qualified electrician. This can be upwards of £200 but it does last five years and will spot any wiring flaws and advise on how to fix them.
If you have gas, you will need a Gas Safety Certificate done annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer. Again, this is the law.
Sticking to the above advice will hopefully give you and your tenants reassurance and peace of mind.
Here at the AIIC, our members can provide you with a professional inventory service covering all your landlord needs.
Published on 30/03/2023