Private rented homes are more likely to suffer a fire than owned homes, according to official statistics.
Renters have a 6 per cent chance of having a fire at home compared to 4 per cent of homeowners.
The English Housing says despite a greater risk of fire, 1 in 8 rented homes do not have the protection of a working smoke alarm.
So what must landlords do to make sure their tenants are safe from fire?
Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms
The English Housing Survey reveals 86 per cent of the 27,000 house fires reported each year start inside the home – and two-thirds of them start in the kitchen.
A grill or pan of oil overheating were blamed for one in four kitchen fires, while 16 per cent were caused by something close to the cooker catching light.
A quarter of households reported other causes of fire such as arson, candles, bonfires or barbecues.
Landlords in England must instal at least one smoke detector on each floor of a rented home used by a tenant to lessen the risk of a fire.
Carbon monoxide alarms should be fitted in every room with a solid fuel burning appliance, like a coal fire or wood-burning stove.
The detectors must work on the first day of the tenancy. After that, tenants should test the equipment each month to check they still work.
Changing batteries is the tenant’s responsibility, but replacing broken units is down to the landlord.
Heat detectors are not required by law, but the fire service recommends fitting one in the kitchen.
The relevant law is the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015
Furniture and furnishings
Any furniture or furnishings supplied by a landlord in a rented home must have a label showing compliance with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988.
The labels show the items have passed ‘smouldering cigarette’ and ‘match flame’ safety tests.
Most items manufactured in the UK since 1990 comply with the regulations. Any that don’t should be removed from the home before a tenant moves in.
According to the English Housing Survey, 17 per cent of fires in houses and flats were caused by faulty electrical wiring and appliances
Landlords in England must ensure any electrical appliances they supply in a rented home are safe throughout a tenancy – but the law does not explain how this should be done. Portable Appliance Testing (PAT) is one way of meeting the law, but PAT testing is not a legal requirement.
Portable appliances are any electrical devices that can be unplugged and moved. So, that covers everything from an electric tin opener to an American fridge freezer. Some local councils demand landlords carry out PAT tests as licensing conditions, mainly for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).
Meanwhile, all private rented homes in England are covered by the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, which require:
- Electrical installations are checked by a qualified electrician at least every five years
- New tenants are given a copy of the report before they move in while existing tenants should receive one within 28 days of the inspection
- Landlords should keep a copy of the report to hand to the electrician carrying out the following test
- Any remedial or investigative works should be completed within no more than 28 days
Statistics show tenants are six times more likely to die in a fire in a shared house than other rented homes, and if the HMO is three or more floors, that risk soars to 16 times more likely to die in a fire.
No wonder then that fire safety rules are much stricter for shared houses.
Under HMO management regulations, there must be “adequate” fire safety precautions in place.
- Fire doors – Shared houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) will often need self-closing fire doors. Always buy certified doors. Certification means they have passed a test that they will not burn for at least 30 minutes. Plenty of doors can potentially pass the test, but housing and fire inspectors will not allow them if they do not have a certificate.
- Fire extinguishers and blankets – HMO landlords would usually require fire extinguishers on each floor of the property and fire blankets in each kitchen. The equipment should be checked at the start of a tenancy, then at regular intervals by the landlord.
- Fire risk assessments – Fire risk assessments are designed to give early warning of potential problems.
Where a licence is in place, the licence will usually contain conditions about what fire safety measures are required.
Communal areas fire safety
Where the property is a shared house and the tenancies are for individual rooms (as opposed to a single joint and several tenancy) or, the property is a block of flats with a shared communal area, The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 will apply to the communal areas.
The fire safety order requires a fire risk assessment be completed and any issues found to be acted upon.
Some of the requirements a risk assessment should find include:
- Fire exits should be marked, and the exits and routes to them should be kept free from obstruction.
- Emergency lighting.
- Fire alarm installed
- Fire extinguishers within the escape route
- Key-less exit onto the escape route.
The Fire Safety Act 2021 which has commenced in Wales and soon to be commenced in England (no date announced at the time of writing) extends the fire safety order to include the doors leading onto the escape route (meaning fire doors for the entrance to each flat is required with key-less exit) and anything attached to the exterior of the building including balconies.
The housing, health and safety rating system (HHSRS) is a risk-based tool housing officers use to assess private rented homes.
Every licensable shared house undergoes an HHSRS evaluation before receiving a licence.
Landlords can find the latest HHSRS assessment guidance online.