A Landlord's guide to Fire safety responsibilities

A Landlord has a duty of care to ensure that tenants are safe when occupying a rental property. This duty of care includes fire safety and providing a property which has the means to detect fires and a means of escape from fire. The duty of care and the actions a Landlord must take are dependent on the type of rental property; for example, the actions required for a property occupied by a single family are different to that required for a home in multiple occupancy (a shared house). The duty of care remains with the Landlord, regardless of whether the Landlord employs an agent to manage the property. The Landlord must ensure that any agent hired to manage their property carries out the relevant duties on behalf of the Landlord.

 

Regulation and Legislation

There are various Laws and Regulations that relate to fire safety, this section will provide more information about these Laws and Regulations.

A range of Regulations have been designed to help minimise the risk associated with items provided as part of a rental property, including gas and electrical appliances; these Regulations are listed below with a link to the associated K&G Lettings Limited article which provides more detail on each:

There are a number of pieces of Legislation that relate to Fire Safety and affect the Landlord's duty of care, these include the:

  • Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS);
  • Building Regulations;
  • Fire Safety Order; and
  • Houses in Multiple Occupation Licensing.

The next section will briefly discuss how each piece of Legislation relates to fire safety.

Housing Health and Safety Rating System

HHSRS is an assessment of a property to determine what risks it poses to the occupants; 29 different categories are covered by HHSRS, including disrepair, falls, cold, and of particular focus in this article, fire safety. The HHSRS applies to all property, including owner occupied properties.

In relation to fire safety, an HHSRS assessment examines the residential accommodation to determine the likelihood of a fire occurring within the next 12 months and the likely harm that would result from any such fire (for example death or injury). The HHSRS assesses the following hazards that relate to Fire:

  • likelihood of a fire starting;
  • the chances of its detection and its speed of spreading; and
  • ease and means of escape from fire.

HHSRS assessments are undertaken by the Local Authority and are enforceable, meaning that should the assessment reveal a property requires remedial action to remove a risk, the Local Authority can force the Landlord to undertake the remedial action.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced guidance for Landlords about HHSRS, including a section on Fire hazards – see links at the end of the article.

Building regulations

If modifications are made to a property, they must comply with the latest Building Regulations. All residential properties in England and Wales should comply with Building Regulations on aspects such as:

  • means of emergency escape, especially with accommodation with greater than 3 floors; and
  • fire doors and emergency exits, passages and escape routes.

Greater care should be taken if a property is undergoing repair, renovation or redecoration. During this work flammable materials that would not normally be present may be stored at the property; care should be taken as to where these materials are stored, to minimise the risk of fire.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced guidance about Building Regulations and Fire Safety Procedures – see links at the end of the article.

Fire Safety Order

The Fire Safety Order came into force on the 1st October 2006 for non-domestic premises (for example offices, shops, warehouses, hotels). However, non-domestic properties include the common parts (for example, stairs, halls, and any shared bathrooms) in bedsit type accommodation or in flats (whether purpose built or converted) and regardless of whether or not they are rented or owner/occupied. The Order applies in these cases irrespective of the number of occupants. The Fire Order imposes strict obligations on the Landlord, including, for example, to undertake a fire risk assessment; and to ensure appropriate procedures including fire safety drills to deal with danger.

The full wording of the Fire Safety Order can be found in the links at the end of the article.

Houses in Multiple Occupation Licensing

As from 6th April 2006 new legislation was introduced to govern houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). HMOs include residential accommodation such as bedsits, flats and shared houses (such as those occupied by students and young people). HMOs also include hostels, bed and breakfast accommodation, refuges, residential accommodation for migrant workers, seasonal workers, and asylum seekers, as well as private halls of residence for students and nurses. These properties are deemed to have a higher risk of fire and a greater potential for injury from fire should one occur. As a result there are strict requirements to ensure fire safety, for example, the provision of fire extinguishers in communal areas and the provision of an integrated fire alarm system with sprinkler – dependent upon the type of property.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced guidance about HMO Licensing for Landlords and Managers – see links at the end of the article.

Guidance on fire safety

As explained in the previous section and linked articles, there are a number of pieces of Legislation that relate to fire safety. The number of pieces of Legislation and the variety of property types means it is not feasible to offer a single solution to fire safety which can be applied by Landlords to all properties, as identical properties may need different approaches due to differences in the types of occupation or the needs of the occupants. Fire safety solutions must be tailored to the individual property, its type and level of occupation and the fire risk it presents. LACORS (now known as Local Government Regulation) has published authoritative fire safety guidance for existing residential properties which includes separate guidance for different types of property, for example single occupancy dwellings and multiple occupancy dwellings.

LACORS' guidance: authoritative fire safety guidance

The LACORS' guidance is the authoritative national fire safety guidance for England and provides information which covers the range of different legislation that apply to fire safety, for different types of property. Rather than discussing the measures that need to be taken for each property, this section will outline the parts of the LACORS' guidance that apply to all properties.

The guidance recommends that a fire risk assessment is undertaken on all properties. The aims of the fire risk assessment are:

  • to identify the fire hazards;
  • to reduce the risk of those hazards causing harm to as low as reasonably practicable; and
  • to decide what physical fire precautions and management arrangements are necessary to ensure the safety of people in the premises if a fire does start.

A fire risk assessment should be undertaken by a competent person; in reality, in most accommodation, the Landlord is able to complete this; however, in instances where a property includes different uses, for example, residential property alongside or above a commercial use, a specialist may need to be consulted. The LACORS guidance provides a suggested technique for undertaking a fire risk assessment, which we recommend is followed by Landlords who choose to undertake this themselves.

In addition to a fire risk assessment, an appropriate emergency plan should be put in place in all properties. In most residential accommodation this is unlikely to extend beyond advising residents what to do in the event of a fire or fire alarm and how to contact the fire and rescue service; however, in large or mixed use premises a more sophisticated plan may be necessary. We always recommend Landlords consult the LACORS guidance to determine what type of plan is suitable.

Summary

There are various Laws and Regulations that relate to fire safety and it is essential that the Landlords understand their obligations under each. The range of legislation that applies to fire safety makes it impossible to offer a one-size fits solution. However, the LACORS guidance provides detailed information on ways in which Landlords can meet their obligations under the different Legilsation and Regulations; this guidance is an essential reference for any Landlord.

Landlords are ultimately responsible for fire safety and ensuring any managing agent takes fire safety seriously and satisfies their responsibilities. We recommend that, as a minimum, Landlords equip their rental properties so they meet the minimum standards outlined in the LACORS' guidance.

K&G Lettings Limited Property Management Services

Since 2004, K&G Lettings Limited have been successfully managing residential property and have a detailed understanding of areas within Hull and the East Riding. This knowledge allows us to provide the best possible and most informed advice to Tenants and Landlords – including about Fire Safety. If you would like to learn more about our services, please visit our Property Management pages or contact one of the team.

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