hmo fire safety

A number of court cases took place during 2020 involving charges against landlords of houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs). In all instances the landlords had failed to take their HMO fire safety responsibilities seriously enough. In some cases, that had tragic outcomes.

One of those instances was the case of a landlord who had failed to put suitable fire precautions in place in an HMO he rented out in Luton. Those failings included a lack of fire doors and inadequate fire detection systems. While fire alarms had been installed in the house, it was not clear if they worked, and they had not been interlinked as was the legal requirement for that property. In 2019 a fire had broken out in a first floor bedroom in the house and despite the efforts of another resident and a passer-by, one of the tenants in the property died. The landlord was imprisoned for four months, suspended for 12 months, and given fines totalling £32,000. In another sad incident, a man lost his life in a house fire in Derby. The landlord pleaded guilty to three counts of fire regulation breaches including having a front escape route that should have been open but was locked, and a rear escape route that took tenants into an enclosed area. He had also failed to conduct a suitable risk assessment.

And while there was thankfully no fire in this case in an HMO in Scunthorpe, the potential for a devastating outcome is evident. The landlord received a fine totalling nearly £15,000 for a range of safety breaches including having no fire alarm and inadequate fire escapes, along with other issues connected to ‘unsanitary living conditions’. The property should have been licensed but it wasn’t.

Every property is different

When it comes to the rules around precisely what is required to ensure HMO fire safety, there’s variability depending on the specifics of each property and which UK nation they are located in. Factors that determine the precise rules include the size of the HMO, the number of bedrooms, the number of people living in the property and the nature of any common areas. The property may need a licence and that can affect requirements too. The tenants themselves could potentially have an impact on fire risk factors which must be taken into account: for example, having a particular disability that makes it more difficult to evacuate a house quickly.

This all means that when it comes to fire safety there are several pieces of legislation and associated regulations that could apply. They include Building Regulations, The Housing Act 2004, The HMO Management Regulations, The Housing Health and Safety Rating System and The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, along with other regulations relating to electrical and carbon monoxide safety. It’s important to seek specific guidance to confirm precisely what is required for any given property.

Of course, just because a landlord isn’t required to do something doesn’t mean they can’t go above and beyond, perhaps by adding more fire doors or providing extra equipment. The mindset every landlord should approach HMO fire safety with is one where they are continually asking themselves if they are doing everything possible to look after their tenants.

Fire safety actions should typically include:

  • Carrying out a detailed fire risk assessment to identify any risks, then devising steps to eliminate or at least reduce those risks.
  • Conducting a careful review of escape routes. What actions need to be taken to make sure tenants have as much time as possible to evacuate in the event of fire? In some cases certified fire doors will be required.
  • Clearly telling tenants about the location of fire exits and the importance of never blocking them off. Adequate signs and notices might need to be provided, highlighting escape routes and what to do in case of fire.
  • Maintaining gas and electrics adequately, including annual gas safety checks and full electrical checks every 5 years.
  • Providing and maintaining all necessary fire detection and firefighting equipment. That could include equipment like fire extinguishers and blankets, plus fire alarms and emergency lighting.
  • Checking that furniture and furnishings meet the required standards for fire resistance.

Can we help you with fire safety in your HMO?

Could you benefit from some professional advice about what you need to do to keep your HMO tenants safe from fire and to ensure you are complying with all your obligations? If so, please do get in touch with us to find out more about how we can help you.