A fire in the home is a devastating event that can happen surprisingly easily. House fires claim the lives of over 200 people in the UK every year, with the majority of these fatalities taking place between 10pm and 6am, when people are asleep. During sleep, your sense of smell decreases to being almost non-existent, which is why people don’t realise they are in danger.
According to Home Office statistics, there were 35,016 fires in homes in the UK during 2019/20. There are around 37,000 domestic fires every year, the majority of which – over 12,000 are caused by misuse of cooking appliances, for example cookers and toasters. Around 67% of accidental fires were caused by human error, such as out of control bonfires, careless cooking, negligent use of appliances and playing with fire, such as matches or lighters. A further 25% were caused by non-human factors like chimney fires, faulty electrical appliances, or faulty fuel supplies. In 2019/20 the daily rate of house fires was highest in April and lowest in August.
If you are a residential landlord it’s vital that you are up to date on fire safety regulations to ensure that your tenants are safe and you are complying with the law. For example, do you know the rules around smoke alarms in rented properties? In September 2018, 38% of battery operated smoke alarms did not sound during a fire. The biggest cause? Disconnected, missing or flat batteries. It’s crucial to know what is your responsibility and what is the responsibility of your tenant. Read on to find out the fire safety regulations that every residential landlord needs to know.
What are a landlord’s fire safety responsibilities?
There are laws in place that are designed to ensure that you as a landlord are doing everything you can to prevent fires and protect your tenants. The specific responsibilities of a landlord include:
- Installing a smoke alarm in each storey of a property, as well as a carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a solid fuel burning appliance (for example, a wood burning stove)
- Ensuring there is access to escape routes at all times, and checking your tenants are doing the same
- Ensuring that all furniture and furnishings are fire safe
- Providing fire alarms and fire extinguishers in houses of multiple occupation (HMO)
- Ensuring there are no fire hazards near areas where fires may start (for example combustible materials should not be stored near boilers or other heat sources)
- Make sure all appliances have an annual Portable Appliance Test (PAT)
- Check all appliances have a British or European safety mark
- Check for labels on appliances and furnitures that manufacturers are legally required to supply stating they are fire safe
What are the fire safety laws for rented properties?
The fire safety laws for rented properties are laid out in various Acts that every landlord needs to be familiar with. These are the key laws you must follow:
1. The Housing Act 2004, including Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
This Housing Act 2004 and HHSRS lay out the main requirements of fire safety in a rented home. The rules include ensuring that tenants are able to escape the property in the event of a fire, and making sure that repairs to the fabric of the property, such as walls and ceilings, are done in a timely manner so that fire is unable to easily spread to other rooms.
2. Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988/1989, 1993 and 2000
If you have a furnished property or intend to furnish one before renting it out, you need to ensure that the furnishings are safe and follow these specific regulations. They apply to all items that are upholstered or contain upholstery, including sofa, armchairs, mattresses, sofa beds, curtains and cushions. Read the Act in full for specific information on how to ensure your furniture and furnishings are fire-safe.
3. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005)
This act covers fire safety in buildings that have communal areas, such as blocks of flats and HMOs. Hallways, stairwells or shared spaces such as kitchens and living rooms provide specific fire risks.
4. The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015
These regulations set out the requirements for landlords to ensure that warning systems are in place to warn tenants in the event of a fire. They outline what is expected in terms of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms, and set out the hefty fines you could receive if you are in breach of the rules. The rules vary between different countries in the UK, so be sure to check with your local authority if you are unsure.
5. Building Regulations
Building regulations impact on fire safety. This is especially important if you are refurbishing a property before letting it out, as it must follow the latest rules and regulations. The work must meet the standards for letting a property, which are different to those of a property you live in yourself. Houses of Multiple Occupancy have different rules from regular tenanted properties, even if they are unlicensed. You should check with your local authority to find out the exact rules, as they can vary from one area to another.
Once you know the rules, they need to be enforced. The best way to do this is to carry out regular inspections, either yourself as a landlord or via a trusted letting agent, to make sure that your tenants are sticking to the rules and haven’t moved furniture around and blocked safety exits.
You should also make sure you have a comprehensive inventory that notes all of the furniture you put in the building. During inspections you can check that your tenant hasn’t removed fire safety labels or replaced items for non-fire safe ones without you knowing. As well as ensuring that you are legally covered when it comes to the rules and regulations, this will also allow you to make sure that your tenants are safe and happy in their home.