The year 2008 marked the highest UK fire losses of all time, rising over the previous year by 16% to a record £1.3bn costs. Fire damage is one of the major risks that your rental property faces, but there are many steps landlords can take to actively prevent fires, from conducting safety checks and installing top of the range alarm systems, to communicating fire prevention tips with tenants. Landlords must also be aware of what to do after a fire has caused damage to their property.
This blog will run through a landlord’s obligations for fire prevention, their legal liability after a fire and offer advice on how to educate tenants in fire safety.
What’s the risk?
Fires tend to seem like a far away or unlikely problem, but when they do occur, they can have disastrous consequences. Most significantly, they can cause injury or loss of human life, but fire damage to properties can also have a significant impact on finances. In 2008 alone, a record of £1.3bn was lost in damages - a 16% increase on the previous year. Insurance can go a long way in covering such costs, so it is imperative that landlords invest in a good plan to begin with.
What is fire damage insurance?
Not all insurance plans cover fire damage, so landlords should look for schemes that pay for repairs, replacements or rebuilding a property. The exact stipulations of the coverage is contingent on the type of insurance bought; for instance, buildings insurance often covers repairs to the structure of the property, while stock insurance covers the replacement of stock. Moreover, there isn’t a fire-specific plan that can be purchased and so landlords should always check the small print to see what is and isn’t covered.
What fire protection should I install?
Fire safety legislation and regulations in the UK differ depending on location, property and type of tenant, a broader guide for which can be found here. Private landlords should consult the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations of 2015. Meanwhile, social housing providers, who accommodate a high percentage of vulnerable people – such as the elderly, the disabled or those with mobility issues – are slightly different as they may require the installation of interlinking alarms and devices. For more information, download our fire safety in social housing guide:
A key standard for landlords to consider is British Standard BS 5839-6:2013 - a set of specific recommendations for fire alarm systems for all dwellings (new build and existing properties). The standard contains detailed points on the design and installation of fire alarm systems, codes of practice and recommendations to meet regulation and legislation. The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 does fall slightly short of BS 5839 pt. 6, so it is recommended landlords abide by the former.
Carbon monoxide alarms are indispensable due to the fact that toxic, odourless gas is impossible to detect without one. To learn more about this silent killer and ProjectSHOUT’s endeavour to boost public awareness, click here.
Fire safety checks
Once an insurance scheme is in place and alarms are aligned with regulations, landlords also have a responsibility to conduct risk assessments both at the beginning and end of a tenancy. Landlords must check that both gas and electric systems are working, alarms are fully functional, the property is in accordance with Fire and Safety Regulations and all electrical appliances carry the British Safety Standard sign. Once the tenant has moved in, it is their responsibility to regularly check that their alarms work. It is advised that testing is are carried out every week. To learn more or educate tenants on how to check alarms, refer to our short guide to checking alarms are in accordance with British regulations and how to install our SONA alarms. Alternatively, many FRS services hold Safe and Well Visits in which the Fire and Rescue Service educate and advise tenants, although this is dependent on the local authority. If you are a landlord wishing to overview the fire safety in your premises, we would recommend downloading our Fire Safety Checklist For Landlords.
Educating tenants on preventing fire damage
The best way to protect a property from fire damage is to educate its inhabitants. Consider including a fire safety handbook like our Kitchen Safety eBook alongside the inventory when the tenancy begins. Or, provide them with handouts that outline escape routes (mandatory as per the Regulatory Reform Order of 2005 and Housing Act of 2004), how to test and clean alarms, what each alarm type means, as well as measures that can be taken to prevent fires from occurring.
What shall I do when there’s been fire damage?
If disaster does strike, there are a number of steps landlords must follow. Once the landlord has been notified by either the tenant or police, they should first check tenants are safe and well. Then, after landlords have been told they can return to the property, they should seek advice from an insurance assessor that will tell them what can be claimed back.For a complete guide, check the Landlord and Tenant 1985 for its section on repairs and damage. If the fire is accidental, then it is the tenant’s responsibility to contact the landlord, claim from their own insurance and find temporary accommodation. Conversely, if the fire is the result of a neighbouring flat, it is the premise’s responsibility. Should the fire be the result of a faulty appliance or other aspect within the property, it's the landlord’s responsibility and they can claim using their housing/building insurance. Depending on the insurance plan, landlords may need to find their tenants temporary accommodation.
The kitchen is the most dangerous room in the home, with over 60% of home fires stating there. It is therefore a primary target when installing and practising fire safety. Please download our free eBook to find out more about preventing fire damage to your rental property, with a particular focus on the kitchen.