Renting your property is a ‘Business’. If you did not know this before, it puts a completely different take on what it is you are actually doing. You are in fact a ‘Commercial Customer’ of the Insurance Company. Insurers will treat you no differently to a Landlord with 100+ properties who makes a considerable living. Being a commercial customer you will be expected to act professionally with regard to how you manage & maintain a Buy to Let Property.
Not to mention, landlord’s property will range from single occupancy to HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupancy) and some even have a mixture or residential tenant & commercial tenants – think of an office with residential units above it! Each of these types of tenant will have their own unique requirements and your attitude to each on should also be different.
Let’s take a standard residential let property = straight forward 2 up 2 down terraced property. You may think each tenant should get the same level of care and attention? Well, this of course I true, in that they all should be treated well. However, if you look at each individual tenant, as a diligent landlord you may want to assess the following:
When you are a Property Owner or Landlord it is normal to consider the type of tenant or occupation of the building, before you embark on any strategy to ensure these occupants are ultimately safe. Apart from keeping occupants safe by implementing such policies, there is another all-important aspect to having a building with good fire safety credentials – it will lower your insurance costs. Exposure to Fire will have every buildings insurer worried as the costs spiral very quickly. Show an insurer that you take Fire safety & risk reduction procedures seriously, you will be rewarded by not having to fork out higher premiums come renewal time. It, therefore, pays to know what you (or your managing agent) should be doing to most importantly save lives, but also reduce your own costs such as with your Buy to Let Insurance.
Normally a Landlord will consider:
- Is it a family with young children?
- Does any of your tenants have any disabilities you should be aware of?
- Do any of your tenants have a history of drug abuse?
- Are there any elderly tenant?
This is, of course, the correct thing to do – assessing your occupant’s profile is a good start. However, this is only just the beginning of what you should know and what you should be doing. Property Owning is a ‘business’, and the bigger the business the more you need to know. So from private landlords to Freeholders of large blocks, you really ought to consider some Legislation, British Standards and good practice. This will not only keep your occupants safe but may well keep you out of jail!
As a landlord or property owner, you will have a duty of care to each and every one of your tenants. If something does go wrong, and you have shown a reasonable level of care to them according to their profile, it assures the appropriate people you have done all that you can. If you are proven not to have given an appropriate level of duty of care in the event of an incident such as a Fire, then you may find you are prosecuted. This is the seriousness of this ‘business’. Take care of your tenant and run the ‘business’ effectively and within certain guidelines, you will reduce the chances of prosecution, needless claims and increased insurance premium. Here are some guidelines & regulations you ought to be aware of:
Acts, Fire Safety Regulations & Guidance you should be aware of:
- Housing Act 2004 (For existing Residential premises) – Includes Housing Health and Safety (HHSRS), licensing for HMOs, and regulations for the management of HMOs
- Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) – requires landlords to carry out fire risk assessments in common areas of HMOs, flats, maisonette and sheltered accommodation.
These responsibilities are further explained in the Fire Safety Assessment: Sleeping Accommodation Government Guidance
Note: In single occupancy households, only the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) applies.
The Guide will apply to owner occupied, social housing, private rentals, shared housing, HMOs, purpose built flats that are not in compliance with Building Regulations 1991.
The Guide is not relevant to buildings constructed in accordance to Building Regulations 1991 (unless there has been a change to the building such as a change of use/purpose – then it will apply), Guest Houses, Hotels, B&Bs, hostels, motels, Halls of Residence (this list is not exhaustive) or holiday chalets.
Some Practical Advice
- Provide a smoke alarm on every storey
- Provide a Carbon Monoxide Alarm in any room with as solid fuel burning appliance (such as a coal fire or wood burning stove)
- Ensure your tenants have access to escape routes throughout their occupancy at all times
- Ensure furniture you have supplied is Fire Safe
- Make sure there are Fire Alarms and Fire Extinguishers is the property is a large HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy (Definition of HMO here)
- Make sure the electrical installation including all sockets & light fittings have been checked by a qualified electrician
- Unless the Fire is small, make sure you tenant know to evacuate to a safe area & call the Fire Service
- Make sure the occupant do not wedge open fire doors
- For larger buildings if there are communal areas, make sure there is emergency lighting that will illuminate if power fails
Please note this not an exhaustive list and any changes to legislation after date of posting will not be considered in this article. It is intended that the reader is given a broad idea of Fire Safety in buildings but not every aspect is covered. We recommend every Landlord contacts their local fire safety officer and obtain a property in depth assessment of their property and their individual fire risks. Note: In single occupancy households, only the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) applies.
Have you carried out a Fire Assessment of your Property?
Being a Landlord, you have a Duty of Care to whoever resides in the premises. You or your managing agent will therefore be responsible. If the landlord or agent cannot carry it out, the onus is on them to pass it to a competent person who can. Top Tip – Make sure this is carried out correctly. Failure to do an adequate risk assessment or not complying and putting right any failings the such a report may highlight is an offence and can result in the responsible person being given a custodial sentence. This is the importance of the subject matter!
So, what should you do as part of your Fire Risk Assessment?
- Assess the risk & find out what are potential fire risks
- Identify who may be affect by these potential fire risks
- Takes steps to reduce or eradicate the potential fire risks
- Keep a record of such actions taken, plan for any fire hazards after the assessment & make this information widely available to those that have a potential exposure to such risks
- Periodically review the Risks to ensure there are no new potential hazards – if there are any new hazards the same process should be followed
- Ensure you have a Fire Safety log book
- Make sure any maintenance is recorded within the Fire Safety log and that any 3rd parties provide copies of certificates for inspections of Fire Alarms
Detecting a Possible Fire
Any fire detection system must have the ability to alert someone whilst they are asleep. The Alarm system should comply with BS 5839 Part 6.
Grade A & Grade D are the most commonly used.
BS 5839-6 received and update in 2019 and was subsequently divided into D1 & D2
D1 – Tamper proof back up battery
D2 – User-replaceable backup battery
The following codes describe the coverage of the detection system: LD1: All circulation spaces forming escape routes and all which room where a fire is possible, LD2: All circulation spaces forming part of escape routes including all rooms/areas where there could be a fore risk to occupants, LD3: Circulation spaces that form part of the escape routes.
Give your tenant some practical tips at the start of their tenancy
- Show them where fire blankets & extinguishers are located
- In HMOs or flats make sure the tenants know how to use them
Make sure your extinguishers are modern and have been updated
Powder extinguishers can be effective but they have been known to reduce visibility is a hazardous fire. They are therefore no longer recommended by the British Standard for indoor use – check yours Is not powder and replace if it is! There are alternative such as water or form.
For further information on this type of property insurance, go to our Landlord Insurance Northern Ireland page. Compartmentation
The 2 main levels of this are 30 minutes or 60 minutes of protection from fire. So, how can this be achieved? There are numerous ways, but having a minimum level of plasterboard on internal walls is a method. In addition using fire resisting doors will also assist to hell reach these levels of fire protection.
Normally, there is no requirement for compartmentation in say a rental property which is a single household occupancy or what may be determined as low risk shared housing. Sound construction methods close-fittings doors will however be a requirement.
This will however affect Landlords & property owners of much larger properties, such as a large block of flats.
Larger properties will require the minimum of 30 minutes fire protection and also require fire doors as a minimum, allowing an escape route to be smoke free & fire resistant long enough to facilitate an escape route for occupants. If deemed there is higher level of fire risk, then this minimum will be increased to 60 minutes.
So what if you are a landlord or property owner of a large building that is deemed to require at least 30 mins of compartmentation? If this is the case, your plasterboard should on walls should be 12.5mm thick including the skim coat or use solid walls. Ceilings should be protected with 12.5mm plasterboard as a minimum, along with ducts being fire stopped.
Top tip: Escape routes should never have portable heaters, contents, furniture of any cooking facilities.
Purpose Built Flats normally will have 60 minutes fire resistance between a flat and the escape route. HMOs or converted houses will normally require 30 minutes fire resistance.
Fire Safety Signs
Normally signs for smaller buildings will not be required. It is normally only required for larger building to have fire safe signage. Larger is normally defined as being over 3 levels – that is why many freeholders of a block of flats will experience higher levels of scrutiny and underwriting when they declare a building of over 3 floors (this will often trigger a survey). After a survey has been carried out, a lack of safety signs will almost certainly cause an insurer to decline giving flats insurance.
Any fire exit sign should have clear instruction on how to exit the building – this is demonstrated clearly by an arrow pointing to safety.
All property owner should consider the following (not an exhaustive list):
- Does the means of escape have direction change?
- Could any escape route cause confusion (when dark for example)
- Are there any secondary escape routes?
- Is there any firefighting equipment that should be signposted?
This article is intended to give property owners who intend to insure their buildings a relative insight into what is expected by your insurer to be fire safe and fire safe compliant. Often insurers will employ fire safety specialists to inspect properties before offering terms. This is especially the case for large blocks of flats. This articles is by no means exhaustive and If you require further information you should contact your local fire safety officer or refer to BS9 91 Code of Practice for fire precautions in design, management and use of residential buildings & any other relevant legislation. The article only represents a small section of fire safety guidance and it may at the time of reading come to be out of date. We therefore recommend every building owner and every person responsible for fire safety have an expert fire safety assessor visit their premises and assess their individual risk. Any changes made to standards or any legislation after the time of writing will not have been considered.