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Fire safety rules for landlords

Fire safety rules for landlords

Landlords have a legal responsibility to adhere to fire regulations for rental properties, to protect both their tenants and their investment.

In this guide to fire safety rules for landlords, we explain all the mandatory regulations for both domestic and commercial properties, including vital gas and electrical safety certificates.

We’ll focus first on the myriad laws in place to ensure that domestic homes are as fire safe as they can be.

Overview of fire safety responsibilities for landlords

Here is an overview of some of the most important mandatory responsibilities include:

  • Making sure all required gas and electrical safety checks are carried out.
  • Ensure appliances have a British or European safety mark, and have portable appliances tested (PAT) annually.
  • Carry out a fire risk assessment for landlords, which highlights all fire-related hazards and how they should be mitigated.
  • Ensure appropriate escape routes are available and advise your tenant to keep access clear.
  • All furnishings provided must meet fire safety standards.
  • Smoke detectors must be fitted on each floor, with a carbon monoxide alarm in all rooms that house a solid fuel burning appliance, like a wood burner.
  • Ensure all doors that lead to the outside can be easily opened from the inside.
  • Landlords of houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) must provide fire extinguishers, fire blankets, and a fire alarm.

Gas and electrical safety certificates

It’s critical to ensure electrical and gas installations and appliances are maintained in good condition.

Many domestic fires are caused by faulty electrical appliances or wiring, while gas leaks can lead to fires and also leave you seriously unwell.

What are landlords’ electrical safety requirements in England?

The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 set out the requirements. In England all landlords, must have the electrical system checked by a qualified electrician.

The Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) must be provided to tenants, and an inspection and fresh certificate must be carried out and provided every five years.

This is in addition to existing laws that require landlords to ensure that all electrical installations and provided appliances are in safe working order.

In addition to knowing the current rules and regulations, you also need to keep up to date with any changes.

Do landlords need to register their appliances?

There is no legal requirement to register electrical appliances, but industry bodies strongly recommend that you do so. A study by Which? magazine revealed that faulty appliances – mostly white goods – cause 60 fires a week in the UK, while Electrical Safety First say that more than half of accidental domestic fires are caused by electricity.

If you are providing appliances with your rental property, register them with the manufacturer so that if there is a product recall you will know about it.

Can landlords be sued for an electrical fire?

If the electrical fire was a result of negligence on the landlord’s part, then tenants may be able to sue for loss of or damage to property, and personal injury. The landlord can also be convicted under electrical safety laws.

What are landlords’ gas safety requirements?

Gas safety rules are broadly the same across the UK:

  • Ensure any gas equipment is installed and maintained by a Gas Safe registered engineer.
  • A registered engineer must carry out an annual safety check on all appliances and flues.
  • A copy of the gas safety check must be supplied before a tenant moves in, or within 28 days of the check.

What are the fire safety regulations for landlords?

It’s clear that landlords must take fire safety extremely seriously. Failure to do so can not only result in tragedy but can also leave property owners open to hefty fines, and even a custodial sentence.

We’ll now look in more detail at the specific fire safety regulations for rented properties, as laid out in various Acts of Parliament.

It is your responsibility to keep on top of any changes to these laws, links to which are included for further reading.

Does a landlord have to provide a fire extinguisher?

Landlords are only required by law to provide fire extinguishers in HMOs, but there is nothing stopping landlords from providing them in other types of accommodation.

The Housing Act 2004, including the Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS)

This is where you’ll find some of the main fire regulations for rental properties, which include:

  • Ensuring tenants have adequate means of escape in the event of a fire and keeping fire escape routes clear. All external doors should open easily from the inside, and ideally any with mortice locks should have a thumbturn on the inside for ease of unlocking.
  • Making sure any necessary repairs are carried out to the structure of the building in a reasonable timeframe, to help prevent fire spreading throughout the property.
  • Checking electrical appliances are safe, have a British or European safety mark, and are subject to an annual PAT (Portable Appliance Test).
  • Ensuring only a ‘spark’ type device is used to light gas cookers, not matches.
  • Making sure there are no combustible materials close to fire risk areas, such as kitchens, boilers, or fuse boxes.

Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988/1989, 1993 and 2010

This is an important piece of legislation if you rent your property furnished.

You need to ensure that all furnishings you provide, including but not limited to sofas, sofa beds and mattresses, comply with fire safety standards.

Before buying furnishings, check that it carries the appropriate safety label, and at your property inspections check to see if your tenant has replaced or added furniture. If they have, make sure you photograph it and note the change on your inventory.

The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015

Regulations around smoke and carbon monoxide alarms can vary in the different countries of the UK, and the legislation named above relates to England only.

In England:

  • Smoke alarms must be fitted on every storey used as living accommodation, including bathrooms and toilets, and tested on the first day of a tenancy. Tenants are responsible for testing thereafter.
  • Carbon monoxide alarms must be fitted in any room that contains a “fixed combustion appliance” (excluding gas cookers), such as a wood burner.
  • Landlords must make sure that smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are repaired or replaced once they have been informed of a fault.

Although you are allowed to install these devices yourself, it may be sensible to have them installed – or at least checked – by a qualified electrician and Gas Safe engineer.

Building Regulations

If you’re building a new home for rent or refurbishing an existing rental property you must follow building regulations, which have an impact on fire safety.

Even if you are contracting the work out to a builder, electrician, or gas engineer, as the owner of the property you are ultimately responsible for ensuring regulations are met.

Different regulations apply to single dwellings, HMOs, and blocks of flats, and detailed guidance can be found in the Building Regulations 2010 Fire Safety document.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005)

This legislation relates to fire safety in shared communal areas in all types of commercial property from shops and offices to pubs, schools, and factories.

In relation to dwellings, it applies predominantly to blocks of flats or HMOs, which may have shared hallways, stairwells, or community areas.

The main rules of the order stipulate that the “responsible person”, in this case the managing agent and / or owner, must:

  • carry out a fire-risk assessment identifying any possible dangers and risks;
  • consider who may be especially at risk;
  • reduce the risk from fire as far as is reasonably possible and provide general fire precautions to deal with any potential remaining risk;
  • create a plan to deal with any emergency and, in most cases, keep a record of your findings;
  • ensure communal areas are kept clear of combustibles and allow easy escape from fire;
  • make sure your tenants are educated to keep these areas clear – it’s best to put it in writing.

If you are the designated “responsible person”, you can either educate yourself to the extent that you can be considered a “competent person” to carry out the above measures, or you can hire a professionally qualified fire risk assessor.

The best way to prove to a court or enforcement officer that you have done everything you can to mitigate fire risks is to carry out periodic risk assessments.

Here’s a useful landlord fire risk assessment example, while the government has also provided a short guide to making your premises safe from fire under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order.

Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018

This legislation came into force on 20th March 2019 to ensure that rented houses and flats are “fit for human habitation”.

It sets out minimum standards for landlords of domestic rented properties to abide by, set out in this government guide.

This includes fire safety, though it does not add any additional responsibilities to those outlined in the legislation we’ve already examined.

Effectively, it strengthens tenants’ means of redress against a minority of landlords who do not fulfil the existing legal obligations set out elsewhere.

What are the fire safety regulations for landlords in Scotland?

In Scotland, from 1st February 2022 all rented properties must be fitted with interlinked smoke and heat alarms, comprising:

  • one smoke alarm in the room that is most used;
  • one smoke alarm in every hallway or landing;
  • one heat alarm in the kitchen.

Interlinked means that if one alarm goes off, they all go off.

A carbon monoxide monitor must be fitted in rooms with a fuel-burning appliance, like a boiler or wood-burning fire.

Landlords in Scotland must also have the electrical installation tested every five years and have an annual gas safety inspection.

For more information, see the Scottish Government’s guide to repairing standards.

What are the fire safety regulations for landlords in Wales?

In Wales, changes to fire and electrical safety regulations for landlords take effect from 15th July 2022, under Renting Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) (Wales) Regulations.

The legislation brings in new obligations, including:

  • an electrical inspection every five years;
  • a working smoke alarm on every storey of a property, inter-linked and connected to the electricity supply;
  • an obligation to ensure the alarms remain in working order;
  • a carbon monoxide alarm in any room which has a gas, oil or solid fuel burning appliance installed.

An annual gas safety inspection was already a legal requirement.

Landlords will have until 15th July 2023 to comply with the new regulations for existing tenancies, but any new tenancy which begins on or after 15th July 2022 must be fully compliant.

What are the fire safety regulations for landlords in Northern Ireland?

Fire safety regulations in Northern Ireland include:

  • an annual gas safety check;
  • the electrical installation and any appliances provided should be safe, but no routine inspections are required;
  • a carbon monoxide alarm must be fitted to any room with a fuel burning appliance;
  • smoke or fire alarms for HMOs.

Do you need fire doors in a rented property?

Current legislation only requires fire doors to be fitted in HMOs where they are likely to be used as an escape route.

They must meet stringent safety requirements, and the best way to ensure compliance is to fit a certified fire door, which closes automatically and is coated with fire-resistant material.

For maximum tenant safety, although it’s not required by law, you can fit internal fire safety doors between rooms – especially between the kitchen and the rest of the home. These can help prevent the spread of fire between rooms for at least 30 minutes.

Fire safety in Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

As we’ve mentioned, there are stricter rules governing fire regulations in HMOs, especially those which require a licence.

An HMO is a property rented out to at least three people who are not from one household, and where toilet, kitchen and bathroom facilities are shared.

A licence from the council is required where the property is occupied by five or more people who form more than one household, when it officially becomes a “large HMO” under the Housing Act 2004.

It’s important to note that fire safety requirements for licensed HMOs differ from council to council – for example, some require fire extinguishers, while others do not.

Councils employ HMO enforcement officers, who will be able to give you advice on the fire safety requirements for your specific property.

Here’s an example of the minimum standards required by a typical council for a licenced HMO:

  • A fire risk assessment must be carried out.
  • Ensure all exit routes are clear from obstructions and constructed of 30-minute fire retardant material.
  • All doors leading to the escape route must be 30-minute, self-closing fire doors with smoke seals.
  • Emergency lighting along the escape route, with exits clearly marked.
  • Instructions of what to do in case of fire clearly available to tenants.
  • Landlord is responsible for providing fire extinguishers (one on each floor, and one, plus a fire blanket, in the kitchen).
  • Keep gas and electricity checks up to date.
  • Landlord is responsible for fire alarms, usually an interlinked warning system, mains operated but with a battery back-up.
  • Ensure furniture and furnishings meet fire regulations.

Fire Safety Act 2021

The Fire Safety Act 2021 was tabled to address some of the key failings that led to the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower and improves upon legislation set out in The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005).

The Act places an increased burden upon the ‘responsible persons’ of HMOs to ensure that buildings are as fire safe as possible. Notably, the act defines an HMO as any residential building with two or more sets of domestic premises, regardless of building height.

  • External parts of a buildings (the walls, windows, balconies and cladding) must be risk assessed by the responsible person who must also take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of fire.
  • Doors between premises that lead to communal parts of the building (hallways, stairs) also fall under the accountability of the ‘responsible person’.
  • Responsible persons must follow ‘risk-based guidance’ and evidence of following this guidance would be used to prove, or disprove, compliance with the requirements of the Act.

Whilst the responsible person can undertake the risk assessments themself, it is advisable to utilise the expertise of a qualified risk assessor.

This Act only applies to England and Wales.

Landlord fire safety responsibilities in flats

If you own and rent out an individual flat, you are responsible for the usual electrical and gas safety checks, and for adhering to all the laws covered under the regulations section.

But if you own a block of flats, you have additional responsibilities, including for:

  • fire safety in communal areas;
  • ensuring that a full risk assessment has been carried out, even if this is undertaken by a managing agent on your behalf;
  • keeping the risk assessment under regular review, and acting on its findings;
  • fitting self-closing fire doors are required for all flat entrances and between communal areas;
  • ensuring that, in purpose-built blocks, there is a minimum of 60 minutes of fire resistance between each flat and fire exits.

Keeping on top of changing legislation

It’s important to keep abreast of any changes to legislation and get advice from qualified professionals on any aspects you’re unclear about.

All of the legislation mentioned above was introduced in the past 20 years, some as recently as 2022, so it’s clear that governments are constantly striving to ensure that rented properties are as safe as they can be.

This places a responsibility on landlords to ensure they are always up to date with any new rules – ignorance of the law is not a defence.

If you use a letting or managing agent and your contract makes them responsible for any fire safety breaches, you still need to ensure they have carried out the right checks and put in place the correct measures.

Landlords should also familiarise themselves with your local council’s website and resources, and set up news alerts for fire safety news.

Why do I need an inventory?

Along with regular inspections, an inventory is an important part of a landlord’s fire safety measures.

It provides a record of everything you have supplied for use in the property and, when combined with photographic evidence of safety labels etc, proves you have stuck to the fire safety rules.

Therefore, if there was a fire caused by something the tenant had brought into the property, you could prove that it wasn’t your fault.

When you carry out inspections of the property, you can update the inventory if the tenant has made any changes – noting that certain items do not belong to you.

Does landlord insurance cover fire?

Fire cover is one of the standard insured perils covered by landlord insurance, along with things like storm, flood, subsidence, and escape of water.

Even with the best precautions in place, you can never completely rule out the possibility of fire damage, so it’s important you accurately calculate the cost of rebuilding your property and the value of any contents you have provided for the tenant to use, and any fixtures and fittings.

Most, if not all, landlord insurance policies stipulate that your legal requirements are met as a landlord. Failure to do so could see claims delayed or declined – and not just those for fire damage but also including legal expenses and rent guarantee.

Always keep evidence of adherence to legislation, and any related communication with the tenant(s).

Visit our landlord insurance area for more advice and details about our award-winning products and service.

Read more: Guide to landlord risks | The cost of being a landlord

Fire safety regulations for commercial landlords

Commercial landlord responsibilities for fire safety are outlined in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which we’ve previously covered in relation to HMOs and blocks of flats.

Essentially, the Order says that fire safety responsibilities lie with the “responsible person” in control of the premises, which will often be the employer rather than the landlord.

This will often be the case if the building is occupied by only one tenant, but in properties split between many tenants (like a shopping centre) there will be communal areas which will be the responsibility of the landlord.

Therefore, the fire safety responsibilities for the building as a whole may well overlap between the tenant / employer and landlord.

The terms of the commercial lease should set out clearly where the responsibility for fire safety lies, especially where these responsibilities co-exist.

One of the most important legal requirements under the order is a regularly-reviewed fire risk assessment, which must be immediately reviewed if:

  • There are staff members who are disabled or under the age of 18.
  • There has been a fire incident, even if it was minor.
  • The structure of the building has been altered.
  • New equipment or machinery is being put in place.

So, in most cases, the landlord will have to carry out risk assessments for the communal areas, and provide fire detection and extinguishing equipment, while the tenant will be responsible for their own part of the property.

If the tenant vacates the property, the “responsible person” or “person who has control of the premises” reverts to the landlord.

For more information on landlord commercial fire responsibilities, the government has provided this easy-to-read guide.

Further reading

For more information on the broader responsibilities of landlords to their tenants, take a look at our guides to Domestic Landlord Responsibilities and Commercial Landlord Responsibilities.

The Fire Safety Advice Centre offers free fire safety and fire prevention advice in the UK and has a library of free resources for landlords.

In addition, your local council and fire service will be able to offer advice tailored to your individual needs.

The advice given in this article is intended as guidance only, landlords have a responsibility to ensure they are complying with all applicable legislation. Please note that legislation does change, it is always best to check the most up to date guidance on gov.uk. Landlord insurance policyholders of Alan Boswell Group also have access to a legal advice helpline where they can seek further advice.

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