New fire safety laws aimed at preventing another Grenfell Tower tragedy could leave landlords facing unlimited fines and jail terms.
Measures in the Building Safety Bill will amend fire safety orders for England from next year and are likely to include houses of multiple occupation (HMO) as well as bigger blocks of flats.
Many of the measures are aimed at tightening current fire safety laws and strengthening how they are enforced.
The amendments include:
- Making fire assessments more detailed and improving the competence of fire risk assessors
- Keeping a fire safety inspection log for buildings
- Imposing unlimited fines on anyone impersonating or obstructing a fire inspector
- Improving fire safety guidance to make the information clearer for landlords to comply with
- 1 Grenfell disaster sparks safety review
- 2 HMO fire safety precautions
- 3 Fines and suspended jail terms
- 4 HMO fire safety FAQ
Grenfell disaster sparks safety review
The Building Safety Bill is part of a massive overhaul of fire safety in HMOs and blocks of flats following the Grenfell disaster in which 72 people died in June 2017.
Built in 1974, the tower was 24 floors high and housed around 600 people and stood on the Lancaster West Estate in North Kensington, London.
A review following the fire has established that the tragedy exposed serious failings across how high rise homes are built and managed.
Chaired by Dame Julie Hackitt, the review concluded more attention should be paid to tenant safety throughout the lifecycle of a building from design through to when people are living there.
The draft Building Safety Bill was published in July 2020 and is currently navigating Parliament, but progress has been slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic eating into time at Westminster.
HMO fire safety precautions
The Grenfell disaster has also led to the courts and local authorities taking a sterner view of HMO landlords who flout fire safety regulations.
This is backed by recent statistics showing that tenants living in an HMO are six times more likely to die in a house fire and this increases to 16 times more likely if the HMO is three or more floors.
The requirements – which vary greatly depending on the layout and number of occupiers – include fitting heat and smoke detectors, and fire alarms, as well as providing extinguishers and fire blankets. Fire escape routes must be signposted and obstruction-free.
Fire safety inspections are carried out as part of the HMO licensing process.
An HMO can be a house shared by more than two unrelated people or some buildings which have been converted into self-contained flats.
Fines and suspended jail terms
Breaking fire safety rules comes with a hefty fine and possibly a ban on letting.
HMO landlords are regularly prosecuted as this list of latest court action shows:
- Tariq Javed was fined £42,000 with £6,000 costs at Buckinghamshire Magistrates Court in February for renting out an HMO without adequate fire safety measures. He failed to attend court.
- Nicola Selwood was handed a nine month jail sentence suspended for 18 months at Taunton Crown Court in February after her five-bed HMO with only one smoke detector was seriously damaged in a blaze. No one was hurt. Selwood admitted that she had not carried out a fire safety assessment at the home and admitted three offences.
- Nilendu Das, of Sheffield, was ordered to pay £7,000 in fines and costs and must serve a 12-month community order after his conviction for a catalogue of housing offences, including breaking fire safety rules.
- Bhagwent Sagno was fined £20,000 with £12,000 costs and jailed for four months, suspended for 12 months, after a tenant died in a Luton HMO fire in March 2019. Luton Crown Court heard faulty fire detection equipment at the house failed to alert the seven tenants to the blaze.
HMO fire safety FAQ
There’s no reason why landlords should not have a working fire safety system fitted in an HMO.
Spending a few hundred pounds on fire safety saves lives.
Here are some of the answers to landlords’ most asked questions about HMO fire safety.
Why is HMO fire safety so important?
Most HMOs are created by sub-dividing larger homes into smaller rooms, which increases the risk of fire.
Fire safety statistics show tenants in an HMO are more likely to suffer injury or death from fire than anyone living in a standard home.
Fire precautions can alert tenants giving them time to escape the flames and to stop smoke or fire spreading.
What are the common fire safety issues in an HMO?
The problem often starts with an unlicensed HMO which has never had an inspection to highlight any fire safety measures.
Requirements vary greatly depending on layout and numbers of occupiers, but every occupied room might require a linked smoke or heat detector to alert everyone in the house if the alarm goes off.
The escape route will likely require emergency lighting in case the electricity goes off and fire exits should be easy to open and unobstructed. Other fire precautions may include fire doors and sprinklers.
Other safety aids would be extinguishers in hallways and fire blankets in kitchens.
The LACORS fire safety guide is the primary guidance for landlords
Who is responsible for checking HMO fire safety?
The HMO owner or manager should make sure the property’s fire safety is up to scratch under the HMO Management Regulations and the Fire Safety Order.