On the 23rd of January 2023, the Fire Safety (England) Regulation 2022 came into force. In this article, we review the new regulations from the perspective of an HMO landlord.
Who the responsible person is for HMO properties
Where in HMO properties the fire regulations apply
What’s new with the latest revision
10 ways to mitigate the risk of fire within your HMO
HMOs and the responsible person
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 sets out the legal requirements required for fire safety in the common areas of houses in multiple occupation, maisonettes and blocks of flats.
For all qualifying properties, there must be a responsible person for ensuring compliance. This is normally the landlord or the managing agent.
The Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 state that the responsible person must:
- Carry out a fire risk assessment
- Provide fire safety information to tenants in the way described later in this article
- Display fire safety instructions on fire doors within the property
Where do the new fire safety regulations apply?
The new regulations apply to residential buildings with stories above ground that contain two or more domestic dwellings or rooms for residential purposes.
Those dwellings may be:
- Individual flats
- Self-contained flats (like in assisted living schemes)
- Rooms that are let out individually within a shared house with or without a communal area, like an HMO
The regulations cover common areas that tenants would use as escape routes in case of a fire or some other emergency. Those areas include:
- Flat entrance doors
- Corridors, stairways and other areas used by tenants within individual dwellings
- Walls and floors that the occupants of two or more of the individual dwellings share in common
- Walls and floors that separate individual dwellings from other individual dwellings (like plant rooms containing boilers, pumps, ventilation, control boards and so on)
- Non-domestic areas of the building like plant rooms, laundries, tenant halls and commercial premises
- External walls including the doors and windows within the walls
- Attachment to external walls like balconies
Internal living spaces of residential areas aren’t covered except for items like smoke detectors and sprinklers that form part of a communal fire alarm system inside those dwellings like smoke detectors and sprinklers.
What the new fire safety regulations require you to do
The two major changes to the new fire safety regulations are regulations 9 and 10, described below.
Regulation 9 – display of fire safety instructions prominently around your property
Regulation 9 requires you to install prominent fire safety instructions wherever the regulations apply within the property including communal areas. The instructions must contain guidance on how to evacuate the property, how to report the fire to the Fire and Rescue Service and any other relevant instructions.
You must tell existing tenants the rules they have to follow in writing or electronically within 12 months of the start of the regulations (23rd January 2024) and every 12 months thereafter. You must tell new tenants within a month of moving in, sooner if “reasonably practical”.
If you make any material changes to the advice, you must update all signage and ensure that they continue to be displayed in all prominent positions around the building. Tenants must be told within a month of the change.
Regulation 10 – provision of information to tenants about fire doors
Regulation 10 covers fire doors. You need to tell all tenants that:
- All fire doors must be closed when not being used.
- They are forbidden from tampering with self-closing devices attached to fire doors.
- They must report any damages or faults to a fire door to the responsible person.
You need to inform residents in the same way as with Regulation 9. A modified version of this regulation covers buildings over 11 metres in height.
10 ways to reduce fire risk within your HMO to protect your tenants
In addition to following the new fire safety regulations, make sure you take the following steps to protect your tenants and your properties from fire:
1. Make sure the smoke alarms work
It’s a condition of your HMO licence to install an adequate smoke detection system in your property. The local authority can demand a declaration on the alarm system you have and its condition. Check the system regularly to verify that it still works and replace sensor batteries regularly.
2. Install a suitable fire alarm
For one- or two-storey properties with floor plates of less than 200m2, you need a Grade D LD3 alarm. LD3 alarms activate by either wire or radio signal so you don’t need a fire alarm panel. Although these systems are mains-powered, you should make sure you regularly replace backup batteries in case of a mains failure.
For properties with three or more stories, you’ll likely need a Grade A system to cover the communal areas and LD3 systems for your tenants’ dwellings.
3. Install the right fire doors
Make sure that you choose FD30 fire-rated doors that pass the 30-minute fire resistance criteria. Please note that some HMOs are required to have doors that can withstand fire for 60 minutes (FD60). You can protect your tenants from smoke by installing a smoke seal and an intumescent strip around the whole frame of the door.
The self-closing doors you have to inform residents about under Regulation 10 prevent the spread of fire between different areas of your property.
4. Think fire-safe when improving the property
Consider investing in fireproof wallpaper & lining paper and fire-safe carpets & floors to slow the spread of fire. If you have trouble sourcing these, make sure that you don’t combustible wood panelling and polystyrene tiles when renovating.
5. Make sure there’s a fire blanket in the kitchen
Ensure that all rooms containing cooking facilities have fire blankets in them. They quickly and effectively smother pan-fire flames as they cut off the fire’s oxygen supply. The blankets themselves won’t combust because the fibreglass or Kevlar they’re made from are fire-resistant.
6. Ban smoking in your property
Fires started by cigarettes account for 9% of fires in England and Wales but 34% of deaths. Also, many tenants also don’t want to live in a property where smoking is permitted so you may increase your pool of renters by banning it outright.
7. Make sure tenants can open the front door without a key
If a fire is spreading quickly through your property, tenants will need to get out of the property fast. Make sure that your outside-facing doors can be opened without a key.
8. Get your electrics tested regularly
Test your electrics every 5 years as required by law. Electrical faults can fry your tenant’s equipment meaning you have to spend money repairing or replacing them. In the worst cases, fires caused by electrical faults can cause significant to your property too.
9. Consider getting outside advice
An outside fire expert will help you identify potential hazards within your property and tell you what steps you need to take to mitigate the threat from those hazards. They will be able to spot potential issues you can’t see thanks to their experience and training.
10. Do your annual checks
Always carry out your annual fire risk assessment. Check that all known threats are being managed correctly and give yourself the opportunity to spot new threats. As well as being a legal requirement, it’s good business. [Related article: How to do a fire risk assessment in an HMO]
Are HMO fire regulations the same as for high-rise residential buildings?
Fire regulations for properties above and below 11 metres in height are similar.
The new regulations define what high-rise multi-occupied residential buildings are – at least seven storeys or taller than 18 metres above ground level.
In high-rise residential buildings, the responsible person is normally the block manager or the building freeholder. However, there may be more than one responsible person if part of a high-rise residential building is given over to commercial premises. Whereas for HMOs, the enforcing authority is nearly always the local housing authority, it’s generally the local fire and rescue authority for a high-rise residential building.
As part of their role, responsible persons in high-rise buildings need to provide fire safety-related information to Fire and Rescue Services to aid operational planning in case of an emergency. The information is also used to help devise additional appropriate safety measures for a particular building.
High-rise blocks have additional rules including:
- Installation of a secure information box and wayfinding signage that can be seen in smoky conditions and in low light.
- Monthly checks on on-site firefighting equipment and evacuation lifts (if there is an issue with either that can’t be fixed within 24 hours, you must report it to the Fire and Rescue Service)
- Quarterly checks on all fire doors within common areas
- Annual checks on fire doors at the entrances of individual tenant dwellings.
Is my property an HMO?
The definition of HMO is set out in the Housing Act 2004.
If you rent your property out on a house share arrangement to 3 or more tenants who are not from the same household, this is an HMO. A “large HMO” is rented out to 5 or more people where some or all tenants share kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities. If this describes your situation, read out guide on whether you need to apply for an HMO licence.
Creating fire-safe HMO spaces for your tenants
As an HMO landlord, you’re required by law to take all reasonable steps to protect your tenants from the risk of fire.
Whether you’re buying an HMO property for the first time or renovating your existing stock, this is something we’d like the opportunity to assist you with.
To talk to us about your project, please get in touch.