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Fire safety failures on the part of an Ipswich landlord landed him in dire straits. The local courts ordered John Edward Perry to pay £17,000 in fines after he ignored repeated warnings from Ipswich Borough Council.

On a previous inspection, the council had ordered Mr Perry to make a number of repairs, including:

  • The fitting of mains wired smoke and heat detectors
  • Provision of a fire extinguisher and fire blanket in the kitchen
  • New locks on fire exit doors
  • The display of his contact details so tenants could report repairs or emergencies

The repairs were deemed necessary because the rental property was an HMO at the time. Council officers also ordered the landlord to provide them with copies of gas and electrical safety certificates. Mr Perry failed to comply with a single request and was duly fined.

He also provided a weak defence to the courts. In it he claimed that the house was not an HMO because some tenants were related. He also cited his living arrangements in Lincolnshire which made it challenging to manage an Ipswich property. The judge rejected both these claims.

A council spokesman said: “The council aims to work with private landlords to ensure their tenants live in a safe and decent home. We made several attempts to work with Mr Perry to get the works done and in the end had no option but to seek enforcement action through the courts.

“The sentence reflects the seriousness of the offences and should demonstrate to landlords that the council will take appropriate steps to secure compliance with housing law.”

What is an HMO?

HMO stands for ‘house of multiple occupation’. It describes dwellings in which more than three people live, forming more than one household. If the property has three storeys (or more) and at least five people forming more than one household, its status changes to a ‘large HMO’.

Why is this important? Well, landlords of HMOs may have fire safety obligations to meet. There is no single set of standards for HMOs; individual councils agree the rules and monitor them via licensing. They choose if licensing apply to you or not; what is standard, however, is that all large HMOs are subject to mandatory licensing.

It sounds complicated and at first, the choices can appear confusing. We always recommend that you visit your local housing office. Ask them to clarify what they expect of you when it comes to fire safety.

How to avoid fire safety failures

Cases like this, where a ‘rogue’ landlord has deliberately ignored warnings to correct breaches, are thankfully rare. In the main, councils are reasonable and pragmatic. They will work with you to ensure you are fully compliant and your tenants are well protected.

Here are our top three fire safety tips for landlords:

Do your research on current fire safety regulations

We talked about licensing and HMOs above. But for those landlords whose properties are not HMOs, how do you know which rules apply?

There are many valuable online resources available; take a look at this guide form the Residential Landlords Association which breaks down the relevant legislation. If you’re still not clear how you’re affected, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

Get the right advice when choosing equipment

Understanding legislation puts you in a strong position. But you might still be baffled by the range of hardware out there. Take fire alarms; did you know there are eight categories to choose from? And current fire alarm legislation doesn’t specify which type you should choose.

Contact a reputable supplier, preferably with third party accreditation, who can help you make the right choice.

Maintenance makes sense

So, you’ve done your homework and installed the appropriate fire safety equipment. That’s the first hurdle dealt with. But your responsibility doesn’t end there. The law also requires you to maintain and service your hardware. We hear of prosecutions all over the UK where landlords and business owners have let their service record lapse and paid the price with severe fines.

You can ask your tenants to get involved. For example, they can test fire alarms once a week (this keeps you compliant with British Standard 5839). If there are fire extinguishers or fire blankets in the property, they can do a monthly visual check. This ensures nothing has been tampered with or inadvertently damaged.

In addition, at six monthly intervals, ask your supplier to carry out a more detailed inspection. This will detect issues which might cause the item to malfunction during a real emergency.

We know that maintenance can feel cumbersome at times and there is the temptation to omit it altogether. But if a fire were to break out, properly functioning fire safety equipment is the difference between life and death. Your tenants lives are in your hands, so please, take your responsibility seriously.

Nikki Harman

Nikki Harman

Marketing Manager

Qualified marketer Nikki has over 20 years’ professional experience. She is responsible for our strategic marketing planning and implementation, including branding, website, lead generation, social media and PR.

Read more blogs from Nikki.

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