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A Birmingham landlord of an HMO admitted he ‘didn’t care’ about the flats he rented out, nor his dire fire alarm servicing record.

Mr Jabbar Khalid appeared in court in September this year and admitted his guilt to all the charges brought against him. He was fined over £3,800 for a litany of fire safety breaches and a failure to obtain an HMO licence.

Officers from Birmingham City Council had visited his property to assess it for a licence and discovered that the flat was highly neglected. The council officers uncovered a string of fire safety hazards, including:

  • No fire blankets in the kitchens
  • The fire alarm panel had malfunctioned
  • Smoke detectors did not work or had parts missing
  • Poorly fitted fire doors
  • Fire doors missing thumb-turn locks which inflates risk of entrapment

The attitude of the landlord is particularly worrying in this case. As Birmingham City Council cabinet member for housing and homes, Cllr Peter Griffiths said, “Khalid admitted to my officers that he didn’t care about the property and he did not take any responsibility for ensuring the safety and comfort of his tenants.” This type of attitude makes fire safety breaches far more likely – and increases the chance of lives lost.

Why do landlords need HMO licences?

HMO is short for ‘house of multiple occupation’. If you’re a landlord and your property is rented to more than three tenants, forming more than one household, it’s described as an HMO. What’s more, it’s possible to have a ‘large HMO’. This is a property with three storeys (or more) and at least five tenants living in more than one household.

It’s important that you understand these definitions because your local authority uses them to determine local licensing regulations. Fire safety regulations in the private rented sector are covered by an HMO licence. The licence will clarify how you’re expected to mitigate any fire hazards. There is no single set of standards for HMO licensing (although all large HMOs are subject to mandatory licensing). All local authorities approach it according to their own policies.

For example, a council in one area may require you to install fire alarms and fire extinguishers and service them at regular intervals. But a council in another area will tell you not do this; indeed some councils will ask landlords to remove fire-fighting equipment. They would prefer tenants and anyone else in the building to prioritise escape over attempting to control a blaze.

So, if you’re a landlord with HMOs in your property portfolio, we recommend that you always get in touch with your local housing team. They will visit your property and explain what you need to do.

Fire alarm servicing in HMOs

Birmingham landlord Jabbar Khalid was obligated to service and maintain all fire alarms in his HMO. Clearly, he was not interested in fulfilling these obligations but that’s not representative of the majority of landlords.

If you have fire alarms in a rental property, here are some areas you should consider to ensure this life-saving equipment is always up to the task.

Regular maintenance can save lives

As this Birmingham landlord discovered, he was legally responsible for his tenants’ safety. So, how better to safeguard against fire than with fully-functioning fire alarms? Research has proved that the sooner a person is alerted to smoke or heat, the better their chance of survival.

What’s involved in servicing a fire alarm?

UK regulations only state that fire alarms must be ‘adequately maintained’. They don’t specify what this means. However, regular testing goes a long way to making sure fire alarm malfunctions are detected. We always recommend that landlords ask their tenants to test alarms on a weekly basis. If they suspect something is wrong, they can report it to you (or your managing agent).

British Standard 5839 also mandates that a fire alarm system should be inspected at least every six months by a ‘competent person’.

What is the definition of a ‘competent person’?

Once again, UK regulations are not definitive. They describe a competent person as:

  • Having skills to identify fire safety hazards
  • Also having the experience and knowledge to mitigate those hazards
  • Be up to speed with current fire safety legislation
  • Have appropriate training/qualifications in fire safety

Where can I find a competent person?

When you employ a technician who works for a third party accredited supplier, you can rest assured that they are trained to the highest standards. All our servicing is carried out in accordance with relevant British Standards code of practice.

For any advice on fire alarms, servicing and maintenance, we’ll be happy to help. Find out more here or get in touch and speak to one of our team directly.

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