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Northampton-based HMO landlord, Nazrul Islam, was fined £3,300 by judges for a variety of offences including failure to provide his four tenants with a safe fire evacuation plan. He was also ordered to pay costs – an additional sum of just over £2,000.

Mr Islam pleaded guilty to five offences at Northampton magistrates court. The media didn’t go into detail about each offence, although two were cited as ‘failure to comply with licence conditions’. We’ll talk more about HMOs (house of multiple occupation) and licensing later.

The main issue appears to be the breach of management regulations for the HMO which would ensure tenants had safe passage out of the property in the event of fire. This is also known as an fire emergency evacuation plan (FEEP).

What else do we know about this prosecution?

It appears that local authorities had already issued Mr Islam with an improvement notice on his property. There was an issue with the layout of the HMO and it was deemed unsafe for tenants in the event of a fire. Preventing tenants from being able to safely evacuate is potentially life-threatening and an extremely serious offence.

The lack of an evacuation plan was not the only concern. Mr Islam also pleaded guilty to the rear garden’s state of disrepair and exposed brickwork in the kitchen. What’s more, the property’s electrical installation was unsafe and could have led to a dangerous electrical fire.

The local council said they would continue to monitor the case to make sure that Mr Islam carried out the works in full and as quickly as possible.

The complexities of an HMO

An HMO is a house in multiple occupation. It’s a term assigned to properties which house at least three people, forming more than one family. Tenants will share facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms. ‘Large’ HMOs describe properties with three floors or more, occupied by at least five people forming more than one family.

The rules for HMO landlords aren’t always clear-cut. Some HMOs will be subject to license although this is generally determined by your local authority (and the size of the house). Not all local authorities run the same licensing schemes. For more information, take a look at this post about another HMO landlord who had fallen foul of the courts.

In this case, it appears that Mr Islam had breached certain conditions of his HMO license. Generally, local housing officers will try to resolve problems amicably. The fact that this went to court suggests that the landlord had ignored repeated requests from the council.

Did you know that the fire safety requirements for an HMO are greater than non-HMO properties? Statistically, fires are more likely to start in HMOs where there is less control over what other occupants are doing.

So, if you’re the responsible landlord of an HMO, what fire safety concerns should you have?

Well, you must carry out a Fire Risk Assessment in communal areas (as legislated in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. Beyond that, it’s almost impossible to say. Each HMO is different so that’s why your local authority decides what’s expected of you. But to give you a steer, here are a few things you may be asked to address:

  • Means of escape – a clear evacuation plan!
  • Fire extinguishers in hallways
  • Fire blankets in kitchen areas
  • Can all exit doors be unlocked without a key?

 

Why is an evacuation plan so important?

As the landlord of an HMO, you are responsible for the safety of your tenants. It’s impossible to guarantee their safety if there is no clear evacuation route out of the property.

So, what’s involved?

You may think you know your home like the back of your hand, but even a familiar building can suddenly feel alien during a fire. Poor visibility due to smoke ingress, compounded by panic, especially if you’re responsible for the safety of others, are a recipe for disaster.

Landlords can provide an evacuation plan to tenants in the form of a safety notice. The notice must give details of the exit route during a fire. It should also provide any additional information that the tenant may need to protect themselves.

Remember that you have a legal duty to ensuring the safety of your tenants and failure to comply could result in a prison sentence.

Electrical testing and a landlord’s responsibility

Northampton magistrates court also found landlord Nazrul Islam guilty of unsafe electrical installation. Landlords of HMOs have slightly more responsibility than other landlords. That said, it’s important that any rental property’s electrics are in good condition.

HMO landlords should carry out periodic inspections (every five years). If you’re a landlord of a property that is not an HMO, you aren’t obliged to carry out these inspections. Good practice, however, would dictate that regular visual inspections take place as tenant safety is ultimately your responsibility. It’s sensible to carry out these inspections in between tenancies when new tenants move in.

If you’re unsure of the safety of any electrical equipment in your property, we recommend Portable Appliance Testing (PAT). Although it’s not compulsory, it’s the simplest and cheapest way of ensuring tenant safety. And if your property is rented as furnished, you are responsible for the safety of the items you provide.

Portable Appliance Testing is not expensive but it pays to use a reputable supplier. Cheaper service providers may only offer a quick visual inspection of the item to check that it’s not damaged. However, a visual check will not determine if an item has faulty wiring or other safety red flags.

At Fire Safety Services, all our PAT services include a thorough visual examination of the appliance as well as a meter test. The meter tests for insulation resistance, polarity of wiring and earth continuity. It’s the only foolproof way to be sure an appliance is fully electrically safe.

If you’re a landlord of an HMO and you don’t want to end up in the same position as Mr Islam, please get in touch. We can help you meet all your fire safety obligations, giving you total peace of mind.

Andrew Ferguson

Andrew Ferguson

Fire Safety Compliance Manager

Andrew is a professional life safety commercial fire risk assessor with 30 years’ experience. He is responsible for client fire risk assessments, fire safety training, consultancy and legal compliance.

Read more blogs from Andrew.

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