Why Is Fire Safety Stricter for HMOs?

A House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) is a property that has three or more people living there, who form more than one household and who share a toilet, kitchen or bathroom facilities with other tenants. HMOs already have stricter fire safety rules than other rented properties and the UK government is looking at making them stricter still. In this article we’ll look at why the rules are stricter for HMOs and what regulations landlords need to be aware of.

What are the Proposed New Rules For HMOs?

Landlords and managing agents of HMOs could face unlimited fines if new measures are brought in, the Home Office has announced. The measures will amend the current Fire Safety Order in the following ways:

  • Improve the quality of fire risk assessments and the competence of those who carry them out.
  • Make sure important fire safety information is preserved over the lifespan of all regulated buildings.
  • Improve coordination between people responsible for fire safety and make it easier to identify who they are.
  • Strengthen enforcement action and give anyone impersonating or obstructing a fire inspector an unlimited fine.
  • Strengthen guidance issued as part of the Fire Safety Order so that failure to follow it may be considered in court proceedings as evidence of non-compliance.
  • Improve the engagement between Building Control Bodies and Fire Authorities in reviewing plans for building work.
  • Requiring all new-build flats over 11 metres tall to install premises information boxes.

Why Are Fire Safety Rules in HMOs So Strict?

The main reason fire safety rules in HMOs are stricter than other rented properties is because people living in HMOs are separate households and therefore less likely to communicate with each other. A family home is much less likely to have rooms that are regularly locked, which can be standard practice in HMOs and therefore mean people do not have easy escape routes should a fire break out. Landlords must plan for this to ensure people can reach safety.

Rules are also stricter for HMOs as the layout of the properties generally tend to be split up into shared areas and private rooms, making the installation of fire warning systems more complex. It may also be necessary for the landlord to fit fire doors, emergency lighting and signs for fire escape routes. 

HMOs are at higher risk of fires as they are often created by the subdivision of larger properties into smaller units, which increases the risk of fire occurring and can mean that means of escape have been compromised during the redevelopment process. Deaths and injuries from fire in HMOs are higher than in single family homes, which is why strict regulations are in place to provide early warning, stop the spread of fire and smoke, and make it easier for occupants to escape. 

What Additional Fire Regulations Apply to HMOs?

All landlords have strict regulations they must stick to in order to ensure the property they are renting out is safe, but HMO landlords must adhere to additional rules around fire safety. The Housing Act of 2004 includes the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) and information about licencing for HMOs and management regulations for HMOs. The main regulation for Fire Safety in HMOs is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This regulation states that, as an HMO landlord, it is your duty to carry out fire risk assessments to minimise the risk of a fire.

How is a HMO Fire Risk Assessment Carried Out?

A fire risk assessment will highlight any potential risks in a HMO and allow you to carry out actions to remedy them. The first thing a landlord should do is create and maintain a fire safety logbook, so that all maintenance activities can be recorded. Following on from this, the main steps of a fire risk assessment are as follows:

  • Identify potential fire hazards. In order to do this, you need to identify all sources of ignition, fuel and oxygen. This will include things like cooking equipment, faulty electrical appliances, boilers, gas heaters, wooden furniture, textiles, flammable liquids, storage of waste and recycling and oxygen supplies from cylinder storage.
  • Identify people at risk. This may include people who are sleeping, unaccompanied children, disabled people, and other people in the vicinity of the building.
  • Check, remove, reduce and protect people and premises from risk. Ways to do this include fire detection systems, emergency lighting and clearly marked, uncluttered escape routes.
  • Record, inform and instruct. Record findings of risk and action taken to rectify it. Have an emergency plan and make tenants aware of it. Provide any necessary training on actions or equipment that will keep tenants safe.
  • Review. Keep your risk assessment under review and make changes where necessary.

Ways to Help Make Your HMO Fire Regulations Compliant

There are various actions you can proactively take to make your HMO compliant. These include:

Fitting Fire Doors

Fire doors stop the spread of smoke and fire throughout a property and give the occupants time to escape. They should be fire-rated and at least of FD30 standard, which means they can contain a fire for at least 30 minutes. All fire doors should have self-closing mechanisms and show proof of performance for the ratings they carry.

Automatic Fire Detection System

An Automatic Fire Detection System conforming to BS5839: Part 6: 1995 with LD1 level should be installed in all HMOs. The control and testing equipment must be mains powered and interlinked with battery backup in all common escape staircases on each landing, all corridors, all bedrooms and the lounge.

Escape Routes

In the event of an emergency an unobstructed, easy to use escape route can make the difference between life and death. Escape routes should be clear of obstacles, clutter, electrical wires and anything else that could be a trip hazard or otherwise hinder escape. Ensure that your tenants know not to obstruct the escape route and check them on a regular basis.

Signs and Notices

All exits should be marked with a sign making them easy to identify. The specification is that the signs must include a green background with a white figure and the word ‘exit’ clearly written. The signs must be placed on each landing level and above the final exit door. 
If you have an HMO it’s vital that your property complies with all the relevant rules and regulations. You must carry out a full fire risk assessment that complies with the official government guidance, ensures that your tenants are as safe as possible, and stops you being liable for a large fine.