People who live in rented or shared accommodation are seven times more likely to experience a fire, according to research. So it’s vital for landlords to be aware of the dangers and be proactive in taking measures to prevent fires.
Every year hundreds of landlords are prosecuted for housing offences, with hefty fines handed out as well as imprisonment for the worst offenders so it is important that landlords are aware of existing laws, which place the onus for protecting tenants squarely on their shoulders.
Assessing the risk
Knowing what’s legally required can be confusing, so landlords may benefit from conducting a thorough fire risk assessment. These professional reviews, carried out by fire safety experts, help the landlord to carry out practical measures to reduce the risk of fire, and of a fire spreading if it does break out. Regulations vary depending on whether properties are purpose-built flats, bedsits or converted flats, and a fire risk assessment will help to establish which laws are applicable in each scenario.
Raising the alarm
Following a consultation on property conditions in the private rented sector, legislation was introduced which required landlords to install working smoke and carbon dioxide alarms in their properties or face fines of up to £5,000.
Smoke alarms must now be fitted on every floor of a building and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a solid fuel burning appliance, such as a coal fire or wood-burning stove. Alarms need to be tested at the start of every tenancy.
Landlords must also ensure that if a fire develops tenants should have access to an escape route at all times.
Faulty electrics pose the risk of causing electric shocks, but they can also be responsible for sparking fires. Latest figures from the Home Office show that faulty appliances and leads caused 16% of all accidental fires in the home.
Landlords are responsible for the safety of the appliances they supply and must make sure that they are regularly PAT (Portable Appliance Testing) tested. This means that appliances such as microwaves, kettles and toasters are checked for faults by experts.
Along with electrical equipment, landlords need to ensure that sockets and light fittings are safe, as well as all wiring, fuses and circuit breakers.
Furniture and furnishings
Every item of furniture provided in a rented property must be fire resistant. This includes sofas, beds, headboards, nursery furniture, cushions, seat pads and garden furniture that is used indoors.
If the furniture was bought from a reputable trader after 1988 it should be fire safe. To check, look for the permanent label, which should be stitched somewhere out of sight. The exceptions are mattresses, divans and bed bases, which are covered by the British safety standard BS 7177. Landlords should look out for this number on these items.
The recent government-commissioned Hackitt review concluded that the UK’s building regulations were not ‘fit for purpose’ and leave room for fire safety ‘shortcuts’. The government has pledged to deliver reforms, so it’s highly likely that more stringent legislation to ensure tenants are afforded the highest level of protection possible will be introduced. Landlords may have to deliver more thorough safety measures and face stiffer penalties if they fail to comply. They would be well advised to acquaint themselves with their obligations before any reforms are put in place.