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Landlords urged to act now on new fire regulations

Date online: 08/05/2015

Under the new legislation, landlords will be required to install smoke alarms on every floor of the rental property and test them at the start of every tenancy.  Carbon monoxide alarms must also be installed in all high risk rooms – such as those where a solid fuel heating system is installed. Landlords failing to meet the new regulations could face a civil penalty of up to £5,000.

The government has announced a £3 million boost to support the delivery of working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms to privately-rented homes across the country. The funding will provide around 445,000 smoke and 40,000 carbon monoxide alarms, which will be free from fire and rescue authorities to private sector landlords whose properties currently do not have alarms.  

A recent court case highlights how some letting agents are blatantly neglecting their duty of care and putting their tenants’ lives and properties at risk. Last year, a Liverpool estate agent was fined £12,100 together with court costs running into many thousands, for more than 54 safety breaches on a house.  

The fire alarm system was inoperative and displaced from the wall, the electricity supply had been by-passed to a number of flats and the fire separation between the ground and floors above was compromised due to gaps in the internal structure coupled with poor workmanship.  There had also been unauthorised work on gas central heating boilers, ill-fitting and damaged fire doors, poor internal layout, penetrating dampness and general issues of disrepair which both the landlord and agent had failed to address, despite repeated requests from the tenants.

 

Michael Portman, Managing Director of LetRisks comments: “According to the government’s own impact assessment, over 200 lives could be saved over the next 10 years by the introduction of this legislation. Most landlords and agents will be supportive of this new ruling, but there will be many landlords that will carry on failing to take their duty of care seriously.  It is a sad fact that virtually every week, there are reports of landlords being prosecuted for breaching safety regulations.

It is essential that landlords and agents prepare their properties prior to October 2015, to ensure they are compliant when the new law comes into force, or they could face a heavy fine.  Landlords and agents should start installing the adequate number of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, in line with the new ruling and ensure that all alarms are in working order.  Particular attention should be paid to blocks of flats, where it is essential that smoke alarms are fitted in each flat and not just in the common areas.

The cost of fire alarms to landlords is small, with a ten year sealed alarm costing around £15. A working smoke alarm can make the difference between life and death and should be seen as every bit as essential as a lock on the front door.

To reduce the risk of fires, there are some simple and obvious rules which agents and landlords can remind tenants of at the start of the tenancy and at periodic property inspections.”

LetRisks has put together some guidelines for landlords and agents:

• Fit battery (or mains) operated smoke alarms that conform to the latest BS standards and fit them in the circulation spaces, i.e. stairways and corridors of your properties and on every floor. Show your tenants how to test them.  Change the batteries between tenancies.  At the start of the tenancy check that the battery works and demonstrate to the tenant that the alarm works

• Carbon monoxide alarms are very different from smoke alarms and false alarms are very unlikely.  They do not alarm when the toast is burnt or when you’ve had an extra hot steamy shower.  When a carbon monoxide alarm indicates the presence of carbon monoxide, it must not be ignored.  Ensure you get a good quality carbon monoxide alarm from a reputable manufacturer – avoid the cheap influx from the Far East which have been blighted with problems and product recalls.

• Assess what alarms are present in the property to be let, whether they work and also record when they were last checked/installed.  Keep a diary note to check again (or remind your landlord to check them – a useful way to maintain contact with your let only landlords)

• Landlords of Houses in Multiple Occupation are required to ensure that adequate fire precautions are provided and maintained, to include providing fire extinguishers and blankets

• Contact your local fire authority in good time to apply for the free alarms. Whilst they are free, they are likely to go quickly.

• Warn tenants not to overload sockets and put adaptors into adaptors and don’t attempt any repairs to the electrical wiring or appliances yourself – use a qualified electrician.  Ensure that tenants refer repairs to the agent and landlord or nominated electrician and warn tenants not to attempt any repairs themselves.

• Check that sockets, switches and light fittings are in good condition with no signs of damage such as cracking or burn marks.  Also check that leads and flexible cables on appliances aren’t damaged or frayed

• Any electrical appliances provided by the agent or landlord should have up to date Portable Appliance Test (PAT) stickers on them (although not a legal requirement it is recommended by the ESC). Unlike gas appliances there is no legal requirement to have an annual safety check, and The Electrical Safety Council (ESC) says agents and landlords should have a Periodic Inspection Reports (PIR) carried out by a registered electrician at least every five years, or on change of tenancy.

• Check to see if the fusebox has RCD protection. This is a life-saving device that protects against electric shock and reduces the risk of electrical fires. Replace old electrics eg fuseboxes with a wooden back; cables coated with black rubber, lead or fabric; old, round pin sockets, light switches and sockets mounted in skirting boards; and light switches mounted on bathroom walls.

• All landlords are required to ensure that all gas appliances and flues are safe. This rule aims to avoid the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. An annual Gas Safety check must be made and tenants must be provided with an appropriate Gas Safety record & the landlord must keep Gas Safety records for a minimum of 2 years.

• All upholstered furnishings provided in a rented property must be fire resistant. The  furniture must have a permanent label clearly showing the symbol that it is fire resistant.

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