There are higher safety standards for HMOs than non-HMO properties, simply because there is a greater risk with all those people sharing one space. But what are the most common health and safety issues for HMO tenants to consider?
In a building with more people in it, fire safety can be a problem, particularly if there isn’t enough storage and possessions are left around blocking escape routes or causing a fire hazard. In most HMOs smoking is not permitted in the communal areas, which is a measure designed to reduce fire risk, as well as environmental impact. However, smoking may be allowed in rooms depending on the tenancy.
Action: make sure that you are told when you move in what the procedure is in the event of a fire. All HMO landlords must do an assessment and carry out whatever works are necessary to reduce fire risk and it’s the landlord’s responsibility to make sure escape routes are clear and in good order and repair. The same goes for smoke alarms – which are a legal requirement. If any of this is missing from your HMO then make a written request to the landlord to deal with it. If you get an unsatisfactory response then contact the local council and the landlord can be compelled to take action.
With more people in them, HMOs tend to need repairs more often as everything in the building is under greater pressure, from the carpets to the boiler. HMO landlords are obliged to have a programme of repairs in place to deal swiftly with anything that occurs in the property, to carry out the work in a workmanlike way and then to make good any decoration that needs to be corrected as a result of the repair work. Unfortunately many landlords don’t adhere to these standards.
Action: make sure that you report repairs to the landlord as soon as they happen and request in writing that they are actioned within the correct timescale. Emergency repairs – those that are necessary to avoid danger to health or safety – should be completed within 24 hours and urgent repairs – which materially affect the comfort or convenient of tenants, within five working days. Other repairs normally come with a timescale of 28 days. If the landlord does not take action then speak to the local authority and he may be compelled to do so.
All HMOs must be fitted with carbon monoxide alarms, that is now the law. Carbon monoxide is a serious threat to health, particularly as it can’t been seen, tasted and it doesn’t smell. In fact this ‘silent killer’ has caused 677 deaths and around 5,000 near misses as the symptoms – such as nausea and headaches – are easy to confuse.
Action: The law now requires all HMO landlords to fit a property with carbon monoxide alarms in every room that is used partly or wholly as living accommodation which also contains any appliance which burns, or is capable of burning, solid fuel. Those that don’t face a fine of £5,000 per property so you are well within your rights to ask for one.