Why are fire safety regulations required?
Landlords are required to adhere to fire regulations in rental properties to ensure the property is safe for tenants. As a landlord you will need to make sure you have followed the fire safety regulations which may include a house fire door installation or ensuring the socket height above worktops is at the required level. As a landlord you must:
- Follow safety regulations
- Install a smoke alarm on each floor and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room which has a solid fuel burning appliance (it is recommended you install one in any case)
- Ensure there is an escape route available at all times (e.g. fire doors)
- Make sure the furniture and furnishings in the property are fire safe
- Provide fire alarms and extinguishers if the property is a large HMO (What does HMO stand for? A house in multiple occupation!)
The aim of the fire safety regulations is to ensure landlords are doing everything they can to prevent fires and protect tenants, the property and adjacent properties. A fire in the property can cause serious damage and/or loss of life. Landlords have a number of legal obligations to comply with to ensure the rental property is safe. If a landlord fails to adhere to his/her legal obligations, legal action may be taken against the landlord and so it is crucial landlords understand their obligations.
What are the fire safety regulations in private rental properties?
Fire safety regulations for landlords in the private rental sector can be found in various laws, which include:
- The Housing Act 2004
- Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
- Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 (which includes amendments)
- The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005)
- The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015
- Building Regulations
What are the fire safety responsibilities for landlords?
Based on the legislation above, landlords have a range of responsibilities to maintain safety within the property, this includes:
- Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
Landlords are required to have at least one smoke alarm installed on every floor of their rental property and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room which contains a solid fuel burning appliance, although it is best practice to install one in any case. Landlords need to check the alarms are in good working order at the start of a tenancy and remind tenants to check they are working properly. If they are damaged/faulty, landlords must replace the alarms without delay. A heat detector and smoke alarm is useful in the property for early detection. For more information on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms click here.
- Access to escape routes/Fire doors
Landlords have a legal obligation to ensure tenants have an available escape route at all times. In addition, escape routes need to be available from each floor and room in the property, to prevent tenants being trapped in case of a fire.
HMO requirements are complex and a more thorough fire risk assessment needs to be conducted. This may include reviewing fire door regulations for HMO’s. HMO fire doors need to be fire resistant and they must close automatically. In addition, fire doors need to be fitted into high risk rooms such as kitchens, or any room with fire-risk appliances. For more information on fire door requirements click here.
- Fire-safe furniture and furnishings
Furniture and furnishings provided in the property must meet the fire safety standards and must be made from fire-resistant material. You can check labels or speak to the manufacturer you purchased from to ensure it meets the requirements.
- Fire extinguishers/blankets
HMOs require fire extinguishers, however it is best to provide a fire extinguisher to your tenant even if you do not have a HMO. In case of a HMO, one fire extinguisher should be provided per floor and one fire blanket in each kitchen. Ensure you check the fire extinguishers and fire blankets regularly to ensure they are satisfactory.
- Electrical Safety Inspection
Improvements in electrical safety helps to reduce electrical fire risks. Landlord’s are responsible for ensuring all electrical appliances, wiring, sockets and fuses are safe throughout the property. A qualified electrician must check the electricals in the property at least once every 5 years. Landlords must provide a copy of the electrical safety report to tenants and when requested by local authorities.
- Portable Appliance Testing (PAT)
If electrical appliances are provided in the property then a PAT test is recommended. Many domestic fires in the UK are caused by faulty electrical appliances and can be avoided if tested, this may include cooking appliances and white goods. A PAT specialist is worth appointing for HMOs, to reduce the risk of fire.
- Gas Safety Checks
It is a legal requirement for landlords to ensure gas equipment supplied is installed safely, is safe to use and is maintained by a gas safe engineer. A registered engineer must carry out an annual gas safety check on each gas appliance and flue. Gas is highly flammable and may cause a fire or explosion if ever there is a leak. Gas safety checks also monitor carbon monoxide leaks, which can be poisonous and deadly if inhaled. Ultimately this is about the safety of your tenants and is absolutely essential.
- Smoke indoors
Tenancy agreements may include restrictions on tenants smoking inside, especially in shared areas. Free tenancy agreement templates found online should be carefully considered as they may not include all the requisite clauses such as prohibiting smoking inside the property. Including a restriction on smoking indoors is best practice as it reduces the risk of fire alongside the risk of damage to surfaces and floors as a result of smoking cigarettes.
- Fire risk assessments
A fire risk assessment is a legal requirement for many rented properties as they identify causes of fire, identify fire hazards and allow landlords to take preventative measures to reduce the risk of a fire. See below for further information about inspecting the fire risk of a property.
Inspecting a property for fire risk
The HHSRS applies to residential accommodation and includes HMOs and is the system local authorities use to assess housing conditions. Local authorities can take action where there is a hazard in the property which may include a fire risk. If you have reported a hazard to your landlord and repair has not been completed you may contact the local authority to raise concerns about your health and safety. An Environmental Health Officer (EHO) will attend the property to inspect the safety of the dwelling. Further information can be found here.
The HHSRS provides a framework for assessing the likelihood of a fire which may cause harm and the severity of the harm, the competent person assessing will look for:
- The position of the heater/cooker and how close it is to flammable materials
- Whether the space heating is inadequate for the entire property and may encourage the use of additional heaters
- Defects to the heating appliances/systems
- Lack of indoor drying facilities for clothes
- An insufficient amount of sockets or inappropriately fitted electrical socket outlets
- Defects to electrical installations including a defect to the supply, meter, fuses, sockets, switches or wiring
- Is there non-fire resistant fabric in the property? For example furniture including sofas, chairs etc
- Is fabric used in the property smoke permeable? (smoke permeable allows smoke to spread) Are the furnishings combustible?
- Is there a lack of fire stops to cavities which may allow the fire to spread?
- Are there a sufficient number of floors in the properties? Are they made from appropriate material? Are they fitted accurately? Are fire door requirements met?
- Do doors have self-closers? Self-closers are mechanisms which allow doors to close automatically
- Are there a sufficient number of smoke/heat detectors?
- Has fire safety/fire fighting equipment been provided?
- Is there a means of escape in case of a fire?
What are building regulations?
Building regulations are standards set for the design and construction of buildings to ensure safety for those in or around the building. Building regulations are essential for landlords to maintain a level of safety to protect tenants and members of the general public. Landlords who fail to comply with building regulations may face serious penalties including fines and prosecution.
If you need to make changes to your property, you must gain approval from building regulations before any work can be carried out. This is to ensure the work you wish to carry out is legally compliant and safe.
The Building Regulations 2010 covers construction and extension of buildings and additional approval may be required where you are:
- Replacing fuse boxes and connected electricals
- Installing a new bathroom which requires additional plumbing
- Installing electricals near a bath/shower
- Installing an air-conditioning system
- Replacing or installing windows or doors
- Replacing or installing roof coverings on flat or pitched roofs
- Replacing or installing a heating system or adding extra radiators to a heating system
Failure to comply with building regulations may pose a risk to the tenant and property, for example the risk of fire where electrical installations are installed incorrectly near a bath/shower.
Why are building works important to reduce fire risk?
The design, construction and condition of a property must limit and prevent the spread of fire and smoke alongside providing a route for escape in the event of a fire. For example, the installation of emergency lighting will illuminate on the way out even if there is a power failure during a fire. In addition, installing a fire door will slow down the spread of smoke and fire so people can get past.
Each risk room (bedrooms, living room, kitchen) must have a wired detector and fire alarm system which is able to detect fires fast and ensure they alert members of the household. The installation of fire doors is crucial to reduce the spread of fire. To ensure landlords are using preventative measures, they may install a fire door which allows 30 minute fire resistance, with heat seals and self closing devices.
When HMO’s are constructed, travel distance is a key element to consider. In case of a fire, tenants need to be able to reach safety within a reasonable amount of time. The layout of the property needs to allow each tenant to exit the property quickly no matter where they are in the property. For example, depending on the HMO licence, landlords may be required to have a distance of 9 meters between any point on the premises and a place of safe exit. For more information on building regulations fire escape routes click here.
In addition recommended fire precaution works may include:
- 30 minute fire resistance wall/door/partition
- Sound traditional construction
- 1 hour fire resistance wall/door/partition
- Smoke detector
- Heat detector
- Fire blanket
- Emergency light
- Control panel
- Emergency escape window
- Electric meter to be boxed in a 30 minute fire resistance box
- Gas meter to be boxed in a 30 minute fire resistance box
Do loft conversions fall under building regulations?
Many HMO landlords and investors may wish to create a HMO loft conversion or a 2 bedroom loft conversion in order to increase the rental income of the property. This is often a complex, time consuming and expensive process which may be rewarding if done correctly. Building regulations would apply to loft conversions as room sizes need to be a minimum size in order to comply with HMO requirements. In addition, if the loft conversion roof is not high enough this may also not be in compliance with the requirements. Landlords may create loft conversion drawings or loft plans in order to ensure they have thought out and have a loft conversion plan ready for when work begins or if they need to consult with investors or builders before the work commences.
The government has introduced minimum bedroom sizes for HMOs which are:
- Sleeping room for 1 adult: no smaller than 6.51m2
- Sleeping room for 2 adults: no smaller than 10.22m2
- Sleeping room for children under 10: no smaller than 4.64m2
In addition to minimum bedroom sizes HMOs must adhere to ceiling height which is 2.3m on any floor.
Always consult your local authority to confirm minimum standards as these vary between regions.
Building regulations part K is “protection from falling, collision and impact” and advises the head height for landing and stairways should be at least 2m, although where there is not enough space to achieve the 2m headroom a reduced headroom may be accepted upon consultation with your local council.
It is important landlords adhere to the requirements set by building regulations and local authorities as these measures reduce the risk of fire and aim to provide tenants with a safe home. Tenants must have a safe escape route in the event of a fire.
What do landlords need planning permission for?
You may need HMO planning permission if you are converting a single home and residential property (C3 use class) into a HMOs (C4 use class). The HMO Article 4 direction aims to create a legal process by which councils can require owners to obtain planning permission. The Article 4 directions are designed to remove Permitted Development Rights (PDR) previously provided under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development Order, GDPO) of 1995 for some areas of the council. Article 4 helps to restrict the number of HMO’s in one area, as development may affect the area, its characteristics, surroundings and the locality as a whole. Article 4 planning only applies to HMOs of up to 6 members. You can find the Oxford City Council Article 4 direction for converting dwelling-houses to HMO use here.
It is important to conform to the latest building regulations as the property’s change of use from a single dwelling (intended for a family) to a house with multiple occupants, landlords must ensure the property is safe and fit for use. Where there is a change of use class there is often an increased risk from fire and limited escape routes. Residential homes don’t often have fire doors or fire resistant walls and so may need upgrading in order to comply with fire safety regulations.
How to get planning permission
Planning permission is needed if you wish to make a change to the structural dwelling of your property and may be required when converting a single home into a HMO. You can contact your Local Planning Authority (LPA) to find out if you need planning permission before commencing any work as this will save you time and money if in any case you are unable to make changes as the local council may otherwise serve an enforcement notice ordering you to undo all the changes you have made. You can find your local council by clicking here.
The LPA will decide whether or not planning permission will be granted and is dependent on the conversion or development plan. For more information on planning permission you can visit the government website here.