A landlord operating an HMO in Lincoln has been fined £8,000 for several breaches of fire safety including fire alarm maintenance. The story was reported in October this year by the Fire Industry Association. It highlights how seriously courts view poor landlord behaviour, especially with regards to tenant safety.
In this particular case, landlord Mr Abdol Ali Javid Keshmiri had paid particular disregard to a range of fire safety matters. Inspectors from the City of Lincoln Council visited the property to inspect and approve the fire safety precautions in place. They discovered that the three-storey building was, in fact, separated into two flats. This is called a house of multiple occupation (or HMO). HMOs are subject to local authority licensing and must comply with local fire safety rules.
Clear fire safety breaches which were ‘unacceptable’
Inspectors noted a total of 11 breaches in fire safety. The property was overcrowded with exposed wiring. At some point, someone had constructed a makeshift kitchen on the landing, a clear fire safety hazard. There was no information about the fire escape route from the ground floor flat. Even more concerning, the bedrooms in this flat had no means of escape due to sealed-up windows.
In addition, a doorway from the ground floor to the first floor hallway had been sealed. And on the first floor, there was no fire alarm installed. There was some firefighting equipment but it was not being maintained adequately.
If a fire had broken out in this property, it is clear that residents’ ability to escape unharmed would have been severely hampered. For example, the kitchen units and appliances installed on the first floor left only a 19.5 inch gap through which to manoeuvre and escape.
In his summing up, the magistrate described the landlord as ‘rogue’ and that the safety breaches were unacceptable.
What are my duties as the landlord of an HMO?
The law is not clear cut, however in most HMOs, some form of local authority licensing is usually required. It’s advisable to contact a housing officer at your council who can visit your property and tell you what’s needed.
Some HMOs are described as ‘large’ – those with three storeys and at least five tenants in more than one household. A mandatory licence always applies in this case. For smaller HMOs, it is up to your council to decide and advise on fire safety regulations.
We reported here on a landlord in east London who was fined over £5,000. Furthermore, in this story, we discuss HMO fire safety regulations in more detail.
Fire alarms save lives
The lack of working fire alarms at this property was especially serious. The correct installation and maintenance of fire alarms saves lives. By not adhering to the regulations, this landlord put the lives of his tenants at risk. He also put himself at risk of a far more serious criminal prosecution.
So, if you’re a landlord of a large HMO, what should you be aware of with regard to fire alarms?
It can appear overwhelming at first. For example, did you know that there are eight different types of fire alarm? To ascertain which is right for you, you must conduct a Fire Risk Assessment. A ‘competent person’ will survey your rental property, identify the fire hazards and state what needs to be done to mitigate these hazards. One of these mitigating factors may be to install and regularly service the right type of fire alarm.
What you need to know about fire alarm maintenance
Did you know that maintaining your fire alarm equipment is a legal requirement? As we see from the story above, failure to do so can bring about criminal charges and stiff penalties.
Here are some FAQs to help you navigate the rules safely and legally:
How often should I have my fire alarm serviced?
Your tenants can help by regularly testing the fire alarm (we recommend on a weekly basis to ensure you comply with the requirements of BS5839). The recommended period between successive inspection and servicing visits should not exceed six months.
What are the benefits of regular maintenance?
You are legally responsible for the safety of tenants living in your rental property. Should fire break out, you will want to be reassured that anyone in the property at the time has the best possible chance of escape. A fully functioning fire alarm will give an early warning sign of danger and allow people to respond quickly to smoke and fire ingress. Most importantly, it can save lives.
How do I know who to trust with servicing and maintenance?
We are third party accredited by BAFE and always recommend to our clients that they choose an accredited supplier. This is proof that the technician has been independently vetted and certified to the highest fire safety standards in the UK. Also, all our servicing is carried out in accordance with relevant British Standards codes of practice.
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