Fire Risk Assessments – your obligations as a landlord

Are you a landlord? Did you know there are certain legal obligations when it comes to fire safety in your properties – which differ depending upon the type of property? Let’s cut the wheat from the chaff and have a look at what needs to be done.

Fires in the home or the workplace can be devastating, even if you’re lucky enough to have it extinguished without injury or loss of life, or before it sweeps through the building and guts everything in sight. All that water and foam used to put it out goes everywhere – through the whole fabric of the building, affecting you and your neighbours – and that does some serious damage on top of the scorch marks.

The Law (the boring bit)

Photo by CQF-Avocat from Pexels - Scrabble tiles arranged to spell the word 'law'
Photo by CQF-Avocat from Pexels

The Law says we need to manage fire risk. This is assessed by undertaking Fire Risk Assessments or FRAs, which must be carried to identify any fire hazards or risks to people on the premises or within its vicinity – and anything that can be done to remove or reduce them. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, in the wake of Grenfell, has now been amended by the Fire Safety Act 2021. This brings legislation in line to better suit the requirements of residential dwellings, rather than focusing solely on commercial and trying to mash a square brick into a round hole by applying the old framework to a residential building.

Commercial properties still need an assessment that covers all parts of the property, but the important part is that it states a “responsible person” must carry out an FRA and that this now applies to residential properties, specifically the common areas and entrance doors to flats opening into communal areas, so there is no avoiding doing one. But how do you know if you’re a responsible person? Well, the Government states that a responsible person is one of the following:

  • You own the building (only in relation to the non-domestic parts)
  • You have control over the premises

If you need further clarification you can check here.

The residential areas that must be covered by the FRA are:

  • The structure and external walls of the building (such as cladding, balconies, and windows)
  • Entrance doors to individual flats that open into communal areas

It’s worth noting that some parts of the building fabric such as balconies and windows may be demised to the flat so they won’t be covered under the freeholder or managing agent’s obligations. It’s worth having a re-read of your lease to clarify exactly who is responsible for what so you can undertake an FRA to cover any gaps.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels - A man in a hard hat and high-vis jacket conducts a survey
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

So what is actually being assessed here? In brief, an FRA assesses what in the property may present a hazard, who it affects, how likely that hazard is to occur, and what the consequences may be and their severity if that hazard does occur. A scoring system may be employed to provide a quantitative approach to understanding the risks. Scoring system or no, risks are grouped into “low”, “medium”, and “high” categories, each with their own time limit by which mitigating actions must be completed. The FRAs are then reviewed regularly or if any significant changes occur to the use or fabric of the building. This is an important point, and you can bet your bottom dollar the first questions the authorities ask if the unthinkable happens will be “where is the FRA?” and “when was it last reviewed?”.

Regular review ensures you keep on top of risks, especially in dynamic environments. There is an example template FRA below but if you are nervous about completing an FRA effectively, they can also be undertaken by professionals.

FRA template example from Scribd.

A fire risk assessment template

If you want to get down into the nitty gritty on the FSO then you can see it in all its glory here and the Fire Safety Act 2021 here.

Essentially, the changes will see responsible people (often landlords) moving closer to fire safety issues and having a wider scope of responsibility when it comes to their properties and the people within them. So what do you need to do as a responsible person? Well, you need to have an FRA, but what should you look out for?

Fire risk assessments – what you need to do

Here are some (but not all) things to look out for when carrying out your FRA:

  • Ensure there is an adequate fire escape and that this is clearly marked and kept clear at all times.
  • Keep ignition sources and flammable substances away from each other.
  • Make sure hobs and stovetop cooking devices are clear of obstructions and flammable articles.
  • Checke electrical and gas fixtures are in good order and meet legal requirements (such as having a valid gas safety certificate or fixed electrical inspection where required).
  • Provide signs telling tenants what to do if there is a fire. These signs should use language they can understand – maps and images are also useful for non-english speaking tenants.
  • Let people know where the fire assembly point is.
  • Draw up a fire action plan which sets out the steps which need to be taken if there is a fire. Some buildings such as modern flats may have integrated alarm systems and “stay-put” policies that affect how occupiers throughout the building react, even if the fire is not in their dwelling. It is important to know if there is a Fire Action Plan in place already and read it thoroughly.

The fire risk assessment needs to be reviewed if anything changes which might affect fire safety in the building, for example if the building has been altered, or a tenant with particular needs – such as limited mobility or cognitive difficulties – moves in.

Landlords, you can do a few things to help keep your tenants safe:

  • Fitting an Airis for maximum hob safety
  • fitting smoke and heat detectors – interlinked smoke alarms are a legal requirement from February 2022 in all dwellings in Scotland – find out more here.
  • making sure corridors and escape routes are kept clear
  • if tenants are hard of hearing, you should consider an alarm for them that does not rely on being heard, such as a visual or vibrating alarm
  • Obtaining the fire action plan from a managing agent and informing the tenants

Something for free – did you know that older people living in sheltered accommodation and people with impaired vision, mobility or hearing, are entitled to a home fire safety visit from the fire and rescue service? Firefighters will assess their home, offer advice on how to make it safer, and fit a free smoke alarm if needed. Furthermore, if you are concerned about a vulnerable loved one using their stove, you can always fit an Airis to prevent hob fires, which account for around 43% of all house fires in the UK alone.

Airis stove guard installed in a kitchen, protecting the hob from fires and smoke
Airis stove guard prevents fires on the stove

Thanks for reading and please get in touch if you want to know more about reducing fire risks.

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