It used to be the case that you could let your residential rental property and forget it, leaving your tenants to enjoy the accommodation in peace, without any disturbances.
However, these days, with regular changes in the law, risks of none compliance and your insurance requirements, its fair to say that good property management involves regular tenancy inspections.
The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 came into force on 23 January 2023 and there were changes to the to the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarm regulations in October last.
This article refers primarily to English law. It is not a definitive interpretation of the law. Every case is different, rules change over time and only a court can decide – always seek expert advice before taking action or not.
You should warn your tenants at the start of the tenancy that periodic inspections and safety checks will be made and a clause should be incorporated into your agreement to that effect. Tenants should also be made aware that they they are responsible for some of the regular checks themselves, such as testing fire alarms, and that they should report without delay any safety issues that need attention.
Since 1 October 2022, an update to the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide alarm regulations means that all rented properties in England must comply with new safety regulations – The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (Amendment) Regulations 2022 which now apply to private and registered social housing landlords.
Smoke alarms are now mandatory in all private and social rented homes, at least one on every story, ideally near stairwells, and carbon monoxide alarms are to be fitted in rooms that have fixed combustion appliances such as gas boilers or fires, surprisingly not gas cookers, but providing for them would seem sensible in any case.
Landlords are obliged to repair or replace smoke and carbon monoxide alarms if they are informed by tenants that they are not working. Testing them should be, as a precaution, included in the regular inspection checklist. Non-compliance will attract fines of up to £5,000 per breach.
The latest regulations don’t say which type of alarms are to be used, but generally either 10-year battery alarms or ideally a hard wired interconnected system should be supplied. The smoke alarms should reach British Standard (BS) 5839-6 and carbon monoxide alarms should be BS 50291 compliant respectively.
Tenants should be tasked with regularly testing of the equipment between inspections, but landlords and agents should ensure, as with all appliances in a rental, that full operating and testing instructions are supplied and available to the tenant in the property’s Tenant File.
HMOs & high-rise buildings
There are additional safety checks required in these rentals where the premises exceed 11 metres in height. In this case the “responsible person”, be that landlord or agent or a combination must:
Use their “best endeavours” to undertake checks of fire doors at the entrances of individual domestic premises at least every 12 months. Keep a record of the steps taken to comply. In any case, where access was not granted during any 12 months, the actions that the responsible person took to try and gain access should be recorded. Undertake checks of any fire doors in communal areas of the building at least every three months. Clearly mark fire exits with clear verbal and written instructions available to tenants Fire door checks should include checking the safe operation of fire door self-closing mechanisms and also checking for signs:
that the door closer actually closes the door freely that intumescent strips – smoke seals are present and in good condition no alterations or damage to a door’s glazing apertures or air transfer grille there are no gaps around the door frame and seals and that hinges are fitted correctly that the door closes perfectly around the whole frame Always keep good records of your inspections and checks
The new regulations for high-rise rentals also say that:
the responsible person must ensure that fire safety instructions are prominently displayed, a copy is given to new residents as soon as possible and all residents every 12 months. Information about fire doors is to be provided to new residents as soon as possible after they move in and all residents every 12 months. These measures do not apply where there are no common areas or for houses let on joint tenancies, though good practice would say that this information should be provided in these situations. As a landlord or agent (the responsible persons) it is your responsibilities to make sure the latest fire safety requirements are complied with. You will need written evidence that you have done everything within your power (that can reasonably be expected) to eliminate fire risks. Inspection checklists and risk assessments are the best way to evidence this.
High-rise and multi-occupied buildings
The new rules cover high-rise buildings, HMOs and single lets, some relating to premises over 11 metres high but there are others relating to over 18 metres which this article hasn’t covered. See the relevant legislation guides linked to above and below.
Further detailed guidance on the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 is available here
Other legislation relating to fire safety in rental premises includes:
The Housing Act 2004, which also includes the Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
Above are the main requirements for fire safety in rental accommodation in England (other jurisdictions now vary in Great Britain). It includes making sure that the home is safe and that tenants can easily escape in the event of a fire.
The legislation emphasises the necessity of carrying out regular checks and maintenance and making timely repairs when defects are reported, or when discovered on inspections and risk assessments.
The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations as amended mean that all furnishings and furniture must meet certain specifications regarding fire resistance. The regulations apply to any items that contain upholstery, so not only sofas, sofa beds, and mattresses but curtains, pillows, and throws etc. These items must have attached fire safety labels or landlords must have receipts to prove standards and when they where purchased.
Building regulations for fire safety in residential homes, including new and existing dwellings, flats, residential accommodation, schools, colleges and offices are covered in Fire Safety Approved document B
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005) the Fire Safety Order – now provide a framework for regulating fire safety in all non-domestic premises including workplaces and the common parts in multi-occupied residential buildings used in England and Wales.
The Act covers fire safety in shared communal areas of HMOs and blocks of flats. Escape routes, hallways, stairwells, or shared community spaces are the concern of managing agents for these blocks and landlords should liaise with their agents about the specific requirements for each individual building.
The Fire Safety Order involves managing in these areas of fire safety in the property to ensure safety at all times. This can prove difficult when tenants fail to follow instructions, leave bikes, rubbish blocking escape routes and are generally careless of the rules. Nevertheless the responsible person must show that they have done their utmost to ensure the safety for all tenants. Regular inspections and risk assessments are therefore a necessity.
Fire extinguishers and fire blankets
Fire extinguishers are only obligatory in high-rise blocks, large licensable HMOs and multi-occupied commercial premises, but landlords and agents should go beyond the minimum requirements where possible. HMOs require at least one fire extinguisher per floor and one fire blanket should be provided for each kitchen.
As with hard-wired interlinked fire alarm systems in multi-occupied buildings – which should be tested weekly – extinguishers should be checked at the start of every tenancy, serviced and rechecked at least every 12 months. Tenants should be instructed on how to use this equipment and the types of fires it is best used on.
Annual fire risk assessments are a legal requirement for large HMOs, high rise blocks and multi-occupied commercial premises. They help identify safety hazards and possible causes of fires, and the precautions and remedial action landlords and agents should take.
There is no fixed or mandatory method of carrying out a fire risk assessment and they can be carried out by a “competent person”. A template such as the one linked above should be adequate. It’s also worth asking local fire and rescue services if they offer free fire safety inspections. There are also commercial fire safety consultants who will complete an inspection report for a fee.
LACORS is an organisation that has produced a useful guide to help manage the relationship
between the Housing Act 2004 and the Fire Safety Order by offering advice and assistance to enforcers, landlords, managing agents and tenants, amongst others, on ways to make residential buildings safe from fire, regardless of which piece of legislation is relevant.
Other important legislation which covers HMOs and the duties of managers of and multi-occupied buildings is the The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006 for which there are many guides to the legislation’s implementation.
As a general rule you should make regular inspections of your rental properties. You should test and document these by way of inspection checklists and risk assessments, especially for HMOs, high-rise blocks or multi-occupied commercial buildings.
Keep all exits clear from obstructions Make sure refuse is dealt with properly Control storage of inflammable liquids Batteries for mobile electric scooters are a high fire risk when left on charge, often in escape routes. Making sure necessary fire equipment: fire extinguishers, blankets fire and CO alarms are all installed properly, serviced and in good working order Clearly mark fire exits with clear verbal and written instructions made available to tenants Do annual gas safety checks and service gas appliances and flues Have the electrical system checked at least once every five years PAT test (Portable appliance test) appliances – advisory only Consult your local authority regarding fire risks as requirements and interpretations may differ between authorities, they will usually inspect and advise. Keep yourself abreast of legislation and regulation changes which occur often.
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