Fire Risk Assessment

This month we are going to look at the regulations regarding fire safety for landlords or agents who are in control of either a block of flats or an HMO where there are communal areas.
Many landlords will be aware that from October this year there will be a requirement to provide main smoke detectors to rented property, but how many landlords are aware of their obligations for properties where there are communal areas?
Current fire legislation is broadly detailed in the 2004 Housing Act in respect of the dwellings themselves, and in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Regulations 2005 in respect of the common parts of buildings.

The starting point for landlords and letting agents is to remember that all residential properties being let should be safe in the event of fire. Whilst the ‘responsible person’ will normally be the landlord, it is possible to include the letting agent if they are retained to manage the property.

Whilst there is a common law duty of care for landlords to let safe accommodation, the specific obligation to carry out a fire risk assessment only applies to properties which are not a single, private dwelling. Although there is not a requirement to carry out a fire risk assessment for single let premises, it could be argued that it is good practice to do so.

Oddly, the assessment does not need to be in writing but in my opinion, it is much better to produce a written statement as not only does it evidence that an assessment has been carried out, but it will also demonstrate that you have considered risk and possibly taken steps to address fire risk in your building.

To give you an idea of what is required, the reports that I produce run to approximately thirty pages in length.

The purpose of the assessment is to identify the sources of ignition, fuel and the persons at risk in the event that a fire breaks out. There are four main aspects to a thorough risk assessment as follows:

1. Identify hazards and the risk environment of the building.
2. Measures required to reduce risks to an acceptable level as far as is possible.
3. To help those in charge decide on priorities for action based upon a sensible cost/benefit analysis.
4. To enable those responsible to discharge their legal obligations.

To give the above some thought, the hazards could be in respect of the structure or fittings of the premises, the existence of gas or electricity mains, a very steep staircase, storage areas within the communal area. If you have elderly, disabled or otherwise vulnerable people within your building then you should bear in mind this additional risk when addressing fire safety.

To reduce risks, some items could be removed from the building. One example would be the removal of polystyrene ceiling tiles or other combustible items stored in the hall. Items such as electricity meters and the like are unlikely to be able to be moved and therefore to reduce the risk they should be housed in a lockable fireproof box.

Cost benefit considerations will include the need for fire exit signage, extinguishers, emergency lighting and whether an automatic fire detection system should be
installed. A final consideration is to ensure that the fire management programme is continually monitored and that any fire detection equipment is regularly tested to ensure functionality
and efficiency.

Once your risk assessment is complete, arrange for an Emergency Action Plan to be placed in the property in order that occupiers will know what actions to take in the event of a fire. Quite often such plans are displayed in the entrance hall or on the rear of the front door of the premises.

Now that you are compliant, ask your letting agents to check the presence of the fire signage and the Emergency Action Plan when they undertake their interim property visits.

The legislation itself is generally enforced by the local fire authority who have three principal powers under the legislation. These include a Notification of Deficiency which, as the name suggests, means that the authority would highlight a deficiency which needs addressing. Slightly more serious is the Enforcement Notice which requires immediate improvements to be made. The most serious is the Prohibition Notice, which enables the fire authority to restrict the use of part or all of the property until required improvements are made.

Whilst the foregoing appears fairly draconian it is worth bearing in mind that the fire authority are generally very happy to be engaged by landlords for advice and suggestions. In my own experience they have been incredibly helpful and indeed often have some fire detection equipment that they can provide to landlords properties free of charge.