If you are a landlord, or an investor who is looking to buy an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation), the rules are very much more complicated than a straightforward buy-to-let. An HMO is any property that is shared by three or more people who are not members of the same family. HMO landlords need to have a licence from the Local Council Housing Department. This will be valid for up to three years and will then need to be renewed. This will ensure that the property is managed properly and meets the required safety standards.
All housing, including HMO’s, is subject to the Housing Act 2004. This Act is enforced by the Local Housing Authority. However, other pieces of fire safety legislation can also apply to HMO’s. Fire Safety in new or converted HMO’s, blocks of flats, and maisonettes is subject to the Building Regulations, and fire safety in the communal areas of HMO’s comes under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The Responsible Person under this act will usually be the landlord or his/her managing agent.
The Fire Safety Order requires the responsible person to carry out a fire risk assessment of the premises, the objects of which are to identify fire hazards, reduce the risk of those hazards causing harm to as low as reasonably practical, and to decide what fire precautions and management arrangements are necessary to ensure the safety of people in the premises if a fire should start. The Responsible Person is also required to keep a written record of the findings of the assessment and any actions taken as a result.
There are several steps involved in assessing the fire risk, the first of which is to identify fire hazards, which are sources of ignition, fuel, and oxygen. All three have to be present for a fire to start. It is fair to say that the oxygen will usually be provided by the air around us. A number of different things can cause ignition, such as matches; cigarette ends; naked flames; faulty electrical equipment; electric, gas, or oil-fired heaters; and cooking equipment, among others, and also arson.
As for sources of fuel, there are many. Anything that burns is a fuel source. You need to keep an eye out for things that could catch fire fairly easily and which are present in enough quantity to provide fuel for a fire. You might consider, as a landlord, that there is very little in the way of possible fuel in the corridors, stairs, and other communal areas of your HMO, but you also have to allow for the fact that residents or visitors may easily bring in something that is flammable and leave it lying around.
You then need to identify people who may be at risk such as those sleeping in the accommodation, guests, visitors, cleaners, maintenance staff, unaccompanied children, and so on. There may also be people with disabilities, people who are not able to leave the premises quickly such as parents with children, and even people who may be suffering from the effects of drugs or alcohol misuse.
Next you have to evaluate and remove, or reduce, the risk of fire breaking out, evaluate the risk to people should it do so, and remove or reduce fire hazards, thus removing or reducing the risks to people.
It goes without saying that you need smoke alarms and a fire alarm system, fire-fighting equipment – fire extinguishers, etc., lighting, escape routes, and warning signs and notices. You also need to undertake routine maintenance of electrical equipment, and so on, and also the fire and smoke alarms.
As you can readily see, there are a lot of things that you need to take into consideration as a landlord of an HMO, particularly where the building contains a lot of flats. Furthermore, we have only really scratched the surface of all the government recommendations and requirements. You can read more here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/422192/9281_Sleeping_Accomodation_v2.pdf. This guide runs to 142 pages.
This is why so many landlords who need a fire risk assessment for flats prefer to ask us at UK-Fire Risk Assessments to do it instead. Our assessors are highly skilled and fully conversant with every aspect of the law. We produce the written report that the law requires you to keep. This will give you the confidence of knowing that you are fully compliant and that your tenants are protected.