Anyone who lets property to others is under a general duty in law to provide accommodation that is fit for purpose and safe. However, there is a body of legislation that relates specifically to fire safety in HMOs.
The Housing Act 2004 contains the powers which enable councils to take action where a range of housing hazards, including the risk of fire, occur. The Act also lays down the licensing requirements for larger HMOs.
The HMO Management Regulations place duties on the manager of an HMO to keep the fabric, fixtures and fittings in good order, ensure that occupiers are protected from injury, and supply and maintain gas, electricity and other services.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires any person with some level of control over an HMO (the ‘responsible person’) to:
- Carry out a fire risk assessment;
- Take reasonable steps to reduce risk from fire; and
- Make sure anyone in the property can safely escape if a fire occurs.
The ‘responsible person’ can delegate the task to some other competent person (although the ‘responsible person’ retains the duty to meet its requirements).
It is essential that escape routes in HMOs are protected from fire, where necessary, and are kept clear of items of furniture, rubbish, clothes drying facilities, bicycles, trailing leads etc. Nothing should be allowed to accumulate in the escape route that would hinder the safe evacuation of residents and visitors in the event of a fire.
Stairs, handrails and floor coverings must be maintained in a good, serviceable and safe condition at all times. You should keep your residents and visitors informed, and provide signs detailing actions to be taken in the event of a fire. You should ensure that your residents and visitors know how to react, and that they know where their nearest fire assembly point is located.
Consideration must be given where non or limited English speaking residents are housed, to ensure that they can understand any instructions provided, e.g. a landlord renting out their entire building to migrant workers should not provide all emergency instructions solely in English.