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Fire safety and furniture regulations - Repair of Rented Properties

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last updated: 28 May 2016 report a problem

fire safety

Fire safety is an utmost concern for rented properties. That is especially true for properties that share communal areas or HMOs.

Currently, there is no single fire safety certificate, which landlords can obtain. As opposed to gas and electricity safety, fire safety is determined by a number of factors. This doesn’t mean landlords don’t have responsibilities for maintaining fire safety in their property. Their general responsibilities about fire safety are defined in The Regulatory Reform Order 2005.

General fire safety responsibilities of the landlord

Landlords need to ensure that appropriate escape routes are available. In the even of fire breaking out, tenants must have a secure exit to evacuate from the property. Doors to the outside must be accessible from the inside. Mortise locks should have a thumbturn on the inside. It would allow tenants to exit, even if the door is locked and they don’t have a key. Otherwise, a spare key, in a designated niche is also a valid solution, though a worse one.

Landlords and letting agents must  also comply with Gas and Electrical safety regulations. They are the critical to maintain Fire safety.

A fire risk assessment must be made by the landlord or a responsible party. It’s best done by a fire safety professional for HMOs and large properties.  

All furniture and upholstery, provided as part of the rented property, by the owner, must meet the fire safety standard.

There must be a smoke alarm on every storey of the property. Additionally, a carbon monoxide alarm must be installed in every room where solid fuels are used.

Additional fire safety regulations for HMOs

Houses in multiple occupation have extended fire safety requirements. Since many people live together, HMO properties must ensure the property is well prepared in the event of a fire.

In addition to the general fire safety requirements, HMO properties require that:

There must be more fire warning systems installed in high risk areas, such as the kitchen and and emergency exits, such as the stairways.

A fire extinguisher must be provided on every floor. It should be the correct type and must be regularly checked and serviced.

A fire blanket must be available in every shared kitchen.

The designated escape route must be fire, smoke and fume resistant for a longer period of time. This is to make sure all tenants and residents can safely exit the building. Additionally, every door to this fire escape must also be fire resistant. It needs to have a feature for automatic closing, to prevent flames and smoke to enter the escape route.

Furniture and upholstery must meet fire safety standards in all rented properties

There are specific requirements for furniture and upholstery items in furnished properties. The specific law regarding furniture is set in 1988 by the The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations.

All furniture and equipment must be manufactured from fire resistant materials. Otherwise they must be treated with fire retardant coatings from the manufacturer. Check the manufacturer’s label on items of furniture. All items must have one permanent manufacturer’s label, which cannot be removed. This will give you information on the materials used to make the item. Any upholstered items must have a filling which is fire resistant. All furnishings must pass the ‘match resilience test’ and the ‘cigarette test’. Mattresses and bed bases must have a label that shows that they meet BS7177 – a safety standard set down by law.

As a tenant, you have the right to check if the furnishings and furniture, supplied by your landlord, are safe. It’s recommended that you perform this check during the viewing of the property. If there are any problems, discuss this with the letting agent or landlord immediately. Otherwise, your landlord might have to make improvements while you occupy the property. This will be an inconvenience to you.

Which types of furniture are included in the legislation?

  • Sofas, three piece suites, futons, sofa beds, arm chairs and all convertible furniture
  • Furniture for a nursery
  • Beds, headboards, divans, bed bases and pillows
  • Any garden furniture that could be used inside the property
  • Scatter cushions, pads for seats, stretch covers, loose covers and fitted covers for items of furniture

What is not included?

  • Any furniture or antiques which were made before 1950.
  • Loose mattress covers, sleeping bags, pillow cases, curtains, bed covers, duvets and carpets
  • Any furniture, upholstery or equipment that is property of the tenant

Landlords are not responsible for tenant-owned furniture and appliances

Everything a tenant brings inside the property is their own responsibility. This includes furniture, appliances, decoration and clothes. The landlord or letting agent are not liable if those belongings if yours turn out to be a reason for a fire break out, or get damaged in one.

Consequences for providing unsafe furniture

If a landlord or letting agent lets a furnished property, they must make sure all furniture meets the safety requirements. This is valid for new and secondhand furniture, replacement furniture or addition of new furniture in the property. Landlords who do not comply are breaking the law and could face:

  • Up to six months in prison
  • A fine of up to £5,000 per item of furniture that does not meet safety standards
  • A manslaughter charge in the event of a tenant death
  • Being sued for civil damages by a tenant
  • The insurance for the property can be rendered invalid

Fire risk assessment checklist

Landlords are required to perform a fire risk assessment on a regular basis. Twice an year is enough, but it’s recommended to repeat before a new tenant moves in. The way the assessment is carried out is at the discretion of the landlord. They can also allow a more certified professional to perform it on their behalf. The report must identify fire hazards and provide plans and solutions to mitigate them beforehand.

The assessment is comprised of five points:

  1. Identifying fire hazards  
  • Sources of ignition
  • Sources of fuel
  • Sources of oxygen

Here, a list must be made of all things in the property that can produce a flame or a spark. This can be anything from a box of matches, to a gas stove, to malfunctioning power coupler. Sources of fuel refers to items that easily catch fire – paper, candles, alcohol, paint thinner, etc. Lastly, the person reporting, must note of all places that can feed oxygen to a live fire and cause it to grow and spread.

  1. Identify people at risk  
  • People who live in the premises
  • Neighbours to the property
  • People who are especially at risk

The report must note all people that live in the property, as they are directly impacted by a potential fire. Residents that are more likely to get injured – disabled, mentally challenged – should be highlighted. People in adjacent properties, who would suffer in consequence of a fire, should also be listed.

  1. Evaluate and mitigate risks
  • Evaluate the risk of a fire starting  
  • Evaluate the risk to people getting injured
  • Remove fire hazards
  • Protect people by introducing fire precautions

The surveyor must make note of the likelihood of any fire starting in the property. If there is danger, they must directly correct the problems if possible. Easily flammable materials must be kept away from any sources of ignition. If possible, they must be placed in flame resistant containers. Bedroom doors must not be blocked and should be easy to open and escape if there is an emergency. Faulty electrical appliances must be repaired immediately, if they pose a risk of starting a fire. Too much appliances hooked to the same socket pose a greater chance of producing a spark, or short circuiting the network. If not in use, those must be unplugged, until needed. If in use, they must be spread out to reduce the load over a single power socket.

  1. Record, inform, instruct and train  
  • Record any major issues and report them further up
  • Discuss and work with other responsible people and schedule important repairs
  • Prepare an emergency plan for evacuation from the building
  • Inform and instruct relevant people in the property on how to maintain fire safety
  • Provide training to the residents if necessary

After tackling possible issues on the go, the person who does the assessment must advise the property owner on how to improve the fire safety of the property. If necessary, they must also provide information and assistance to the renters on how to maintain fire safety on a daily basis.

  1. Rinse and repeat
  • Review your fire risk assessment regularly
  • Make changes where necessary

Fire alarms, Smoke and Carbon Monoxide detectors

By law, your landlord must place a smoke detector on each level of the property.

If you live in an HMO, there must also be smoke detectors in the designated escape route. That can be the common hallway or staircase. Additionally, there must be a detector in every kitchen in the property.

If the landlord has allowed smoking in the property, there must also be a smoke detector in each room, it is allowed.

There must be a carbon monoxide detector in every room where there are appliances using solid fuels. For example, if the property features a fireplace, with real coal and wood, there must be a CO alarm in that room.

There are two types of detectors, based on how they are powered. Mains powered detectors don’t need batteries and are generally more reliable. On the other hand, a power strike or failure, can render them useless.

All alarms and detectors must be tested once a month, to make sure they are operational. Battery-powered ones, would need their batteries replaced occasionally. It’s best to test them every two weeks.

Consequences for not providing smoke and CO detectors and alarm systems

The alarm and detector systems are very important to tenant safety. CO is a lethal gas that has no smell, color or taste. Without an appropriate detector, it can cause neurological damage and even death to exposed residents. People are 4 times more likely to die in a household fire if there is no smoke detectors in their home.

Landlords who do not comply are breaking the law and could face:

  • Up to six months in prison
  • A fine of up to £5,000
  • A manslaughter charge in the event of a tenant death
  • Being sued for civil damages by a tenant
  • The insurance for the property can be rendered invalid

Tenants’ responsibilities regarding fire safety

Tenants are expected to monitor the property and it’s contents. Tenants must actively prevent fire and electrical accidents, when possible and safe for them to intervene. As a tenant, you have a responsibility to uphold basic fire safety. This means you should mitigate hazards by:

  • Regularly checking the fire, smoke and CO alarms
  • Replacing the batteries on all detectors, when they run out
  • Properly using electrical appliances (defined by the user manual for each)
  • Properly storing highly combustible materials and liquids, like nail polish remover
  • Not leaving heat producing electrical appliances unattended (stoves, irons)
  • Not leaving live flames unattended (candles, cigarettes, fireplaces)
  • Not using heat or flame producing items in dangerous proximity to combustible materials (paper, upholstery, nylon)
  • Fighting a started fire, if they can do it without endangering themselves to harm
  • Contacting the landlord regarding hazards in the property (fire and electrical safety)
  • Contacting the emergency services if a strong fire has erupted and tenants have fled the property

Tenants are solely responsible for furniture, upholstery, electrical appliances and combustible materials that they own, and, have brought into the property. Landlords hold no accountability for items that have not been in the property when renters moved in. They are only responsible for equipment and furniture that is part of the property, as described in the tenancy agreement.

Tenants must report all potential problems to the landlord

If you suspect anything is a fire risk you must let your landlord or letting agent know immediately. Don’t compromise on safety. The landlord does not want to be liable in the event of a fire. It is in their interest to replace the furniture and fix the fire alarm(s). To make improvements, they rely on their tenants to notify them of any issues in the property in due time.

Always opt for written communications (best over email). If you ever need to provide evidence for your communication, vertal talks will not do you any good.

Where to go for help

The environmental health department can help you with information regarding all hazards in the property. If your landlord has ignored or denied your request for repairs and improvement, the environmental health department can enter the property and implement the needed repairs. They can fine your landlord if they have not met their responsibilities regarding any a fire hazard in the property.     You can locate contact details at your local council.

The Trading Standards website can also be helpful and has links to fire safety sites which can give you even more information.

This article is provided as a guide. The Tenants’ Voice is NOT a legal advice specialist site and our content authors are NOT housing law specialists.

The Tenants’ Voice advises that Tenants act courteously and reasonably in all communications and dealings with regard to a tenancy but if you suspect you are experiencing an infringement of your rights that you seek advice and support from a regulated professional. The Tenants’ Voice recommends Shelter 0808 800

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