If you are responsible for a rental property, whether a landlord, agent or property manager, then there is a legal requirement to prioritise fire safety and make sure that the accommodation is safe.
The focus on fire safety cannot be overstated – there are severe legal repercussions for landlords and agents not following the letter of the law, not to mention the increased risk for the tenants.
Fire safety has been in the spotlight in recent years, magnified by the devastating Grenfell Tower fire that claimed the lives of 72 people. As a result of the tragedy, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was established to examine the circumstances of the fire. Since then, there have been subsequent changes to fire safety regulations to improve tenant safety.
Let’s take a look at the current fire safety responsibilities for landlords, letting agents and property managers, and how the fire safety regulations have changed.
What are the legal responsibilities for fire safety?
Three pieces of legislation cover fire safety in rental properties, they are:
- Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015
- The Housing Act 2004
- The Fire Safety Order
Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015
This piece of legislation came into force in October 2015, and it sets out requirements for “relevant landlords” to ensure they fit and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms in the residential property.
In October 2022, an amendment was made to the legislation, which introduced the following to improve fire safety:
1. Ensure at least one smoke alarm is equipped on each storey of their homes where there is a room used as living accommodation. This has been a legal requirement in the private rented sector since 2015.
2. Ensure a carbon monoxide alarm is equipped in any room used as living accommodation which contains a fixed combustion appliance (excluding gas cookers).
3. Ensure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are repaired or replaced once informed and found that they are faulty.
The requirements laid out in the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015, and its subsequent amendments, are all enforced by local authorities. Failure to adhere to the legislation can result in a fine of £5000 if a landlord fails to take remedial action.
The Housing Act 2004
When The Housing Act 2004 was enacted, it introduced momentous changes to the legal framework and responsibility for those in charge of rental properties. Aside from introducing the now defunct Home Information Packs, it brought with it several regulations for houses in multiple occupation (HMO), requiring qualifying properties to be licensed.
Another area changed by The Housing Act 2004 was the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS), a risk-based tool to help local authorities evaluate and identify potential risks and hazards to health and safety found in a property. Before this, there was a minimum legal fitness standard for rented housing, although the HHSRS was deemed by some as too flexible and open to interpretation.
When it comes to fire safety, The Housing Act 2004 sets out requirements for residential properties like flats, shared houses, HMOs and common areas concerning the risk to residents. The Fire Safety Order builds on this with more stringent requirements.
The Fire Safety Order
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, more commonly known as The Fire Safety Order (FSO), applies across England and Wales. It came into force in October 2006 and pertains to almost all buildings except individual private residences.
The Order covers common areas in houses in multiple occupation (HMO), as well as blocks of flats and maisonettes, and also for any part of the building used as a workplace, like a cleaner’s store, concierge area or maintenance room.
The responsibilities of landlords are clear-cut, however, there are nuances. Landlords will need to make sure that the property is up to the required standards, and that employees (in a commercial setting) are provided with fire safety training.
There is some variation from business to business, so it’s best to seek expert advice, but it generally includes an induction to fire awareness, periodic training for assessing the risk of fires, more extensive responsible persons (RP) fire safety training and skill-based training for conducting fire risk assessments and using fire safety equipment.
Carrying out fire risk assessments
Conducting fire risk assessments (FRA) is a mandatory requirement and crucial to fire safety. In England and Wales, blocks of flats and houses with multiple occupants are required to have a fire risk assessment. The FRA must be detailed, identifying any potential threats or hazards that need to be rectified. Training must come into consideration with fire risk assessments as they need to be carried out by a competent person – someone who has had adequate training in that specific area.
Generally speaking, a fire risk assessment should:
- Identify who may be at risk
- Eliminate the risk of fire or reduce it as much as possible
- Maintain on-site fire fighting facilities
- Create a plan in case of emergencies
- Provide precautionary measures to deal with the risk of fire
- Regularly review the findings of the fire risk assessment
This area has seen some change in recent months with the introduction of the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022, which added some much-needed context to the role of a responsible person. As well as clarifying the role of the responsible person, the new regulations also outlined significant updates to fire safety requirements for high-rise buildings.
Fire Safety Regulations (England) 2022
The responsible person in charge of fire safety for a high-rise building, normally a building owner, landlord or building manager, must adhere to the new requirements outlined in the Fire Safety Regulations (England) 2022.
For multi-occupancy residential buildings of all sizes, the duty holder must give fire safety instructions to all residents and share information with the local Fire and Rescue Service (FRS). The information makes it easier for FRSs to tackle an incident, should one occur, as they will be supplied with crucial information about the building’s layout and materials used for construction, among other things.
Once a building reaches 11 metres in height (5 storeys and above), as well as the aforementioned duties, annual and quarterly fire door inspections must be carried out. Entrance doors must also be inspected annually and all common area fire doors must be inspected quarterly.
Buildings over 18 metres in height must also adhere to the previously mentioned guidance as well as some further requirements. Firstly, responsible persons must provide the local FRS with digital floor plans for the building, retaining a hard copy in a secure information box on site.
Responsible persons should also issue a building plan that clearly identifies firefighting equipment. These give fire and rescue services access to important details about a building and its residents in the event of a fire.
In addition to this, responsible persons must also provide information about the design and materials of the building, undertake frequent lift inspections, report any defects to their local fire and rescue service, and install wayfinding signage.
Digitising fire safety inspections
With the introduction of mandatory inspections for lifts, fire fighting equipment and regular fire risk assessments, there has never been a better time to make your processes digital.
Being able to share fire risk assessments and inspections with all the necessary stakeholders immediately, all while maintaining a detailed history of all inspections and reports, will be crucial to ensuring the long-term safety and security of tenants and building occupants.
Inventory Base features built-in Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarms inspection templates, fire and safety inspection templates, fire door inspection templates and much more, giving responsible persons and duty holders the ability to easily carry out and securely share the mandatory inspections brought forth by the latest fire safety legislation.
Property managers and landlords looking to put fire safety at the top of the agenda should join us Friday 20th January for our webinar – Fire Safety in Multi-Occupied Buildings.
Among other topics, we’ll be discussing the new regulations, outlining the role of a responsible person and going through six key inspection checkpoints.