If you are a landlord who lets out a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) you have a duty to protect your tenants from the risk of fire as far as is practically possible. What this means is that the responsible person is required to carry out a building fire safety risk assessment and identify the general fire precautions and other measures in order to comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The responsible person is usually you as the landlord, or if you have one, your managing agent.
Under the Fire Safety Order this will apply to the common parts of the building, but in practice it means that the entire premises need to be taken into account, including the individual units of accommodation. A fire risk assessment is basically a methodical look at the building and the chances of a fire starting and causing harm to those living in the premises. However, to some extent the responsibilities are limited to the common parts of the building since the landlord cannot be responsible for how tenants may act while in their individual flats. For instance, a tenant may be a smoker and fail to extinguish a cigarette butt, and this could result in a fire. There is no way that the landlord could prevent that happening even if there was a rule that tenants may not smoke in the building, since a tenant may simply break the rules.
There is also the problem that in an HMO the tenants may not have much contact with each other and may even dislike each other. In addition, in a property where individual bedrooms are let and there are common parts such as a kitchen and bathroom, there is the issue that doors to individual rooms will be locked. This can result in people not having a clear exit in the case of fire.
One of the top priorities in such a property is the installation of thumb turn locks. This immediately overcomes the issue of people being unable to escape simply because the keys to a lock are not to hand or have been misplaced.
Of course, fire doors are an essential as well. So, in a typical house each of the bedrooms would have a fire door, as would the kitchen, and very probably a communal lounge. In a block of flats, the responsible person is not liable for what goes on in each flat, but each one must also have a fire door at the flat entrance. Fire doors should also have door closers and intumescent strips around the edges.
In flats, the majority of fires are caused within the individual flats, and this is mainly the result of overloaded electrical sockets. However, chip pans are also dangerous if they are left with the cooker turned on because someone simply didn’t switch it off.
Smoke alarms are, of course, essential and these should be installed in the key areas of the building. Ideally, they should be hard-wired and interconnected so that when one goes off, they all do. Heat alarms need to be installed in kitchens. Depending upon the size of an HMO it may be necessary to install a panel fire alarm system. This will be dictated by the number of rooms and the number of people living there.
At UK-FireRisk Assessments, we can help you with assessing the correct way to deal with the risk of an outbreak of fire in your HMO. However, you should also talk to the local housing office because regulations can also be set by the local council and can differ from one area to another.
When considering escape routes, it is also necessary to think about windows. In some instances, these may be a primary escape route, but in many they can be secondary. Even so, windows should be designed so that they can open for escape, such as tilt and turn windows, and they should also be big enough for a person to escape through them. One of the best ways to do this is to have windows designed and fitted by a registered window fitter who is also a member of FENSA.