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New Fire Safety Regulations for Landlords
With the act being passed through royal assent back in April 2021, the Fire Safety Act 2021 is looking to bring new reforms to the existing fire regulations, namely the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The bill has come as a result of the outcry for urgent accountability in the wake of the Grenfell Tower incidents in 2017.
The new reforms designate those that have control over multi occupied residential buildings as the responsible and therefore accountable party in regards to fire safety, making them obligates to mitigate the risk of a fire. The Fire Safety Act dictates that the responsible person must manage and reduce the risk of fire relating to the structure of the building, comprising the external walls, balconies, windows and the doors between domestic premises and common parts. It also states that in areas where the building is found to be insufficient in its compliance with the fire safety act, the fire service will be empowered to take enforcement action.
This will of course see many landlords that let out such accommodation, alongside those that let houses in multiple occupations review their fire safety implementation to stay in accordance with the new reforms brought about by the act.
As it currently stands in order to be compliant with existing fire safety regulations landlords must ensure that the fire escape routes are clearly available and practical for the tenancy of each of their properties. Rental property owners are further obligated to ensure that all flues , pipes, boilers, heating systems and appliances for both gas and electric have been appropriately inspected , with the safety certificates for each utility being readily available to tenants and representatives of the local authority.
It is worth further stating that in order for their rental property to be compliant with existing fire regulations landlords must ensure that there at least one smoke detector on each floor of the rental property. Whilst this is far less common, there may be some opportunities where the owner of the property permits the tenants to smoke within its grounds, in such cases the landlord is further obligated to have a smoke alarm in any rooms where this takes place. Landlords are also required to have a carbon monoxide detector installed in any room within the rental where appliances that use solid fuels and where the solid fuels themselves are being stored. It is good practice to ensure that each of the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors found across the property are tested by the tenants at least once each month to ensure the rental is still compliant with regulations. If a landlord is found to not have any alarms or detectors installed in their rental property that is currently being let out, they could face criminal charges that may result in a six month prison sentence, a fine of up to £5,000, being found in breach of their landlord insurance policies, alongside being sued for damages by any occupants.
But this is not to dismiss the role that tenant’s play in ensuring that each rental opportunity is compliant with fire safety regulations. Similarly to the responsibility each occupant has to report any structural issues, damages, signs of wear to furnishings and appliances found across the rental, they must also regularly check the smoke and carbon dioxide alarms across the rental. This obligation further extends to ensuring all electrical and gas appliances are used in an appropriate manner and not neglected, alongside any flammable liquids or gasses being stored correctly. If the residents with the property believe that they have found something that would compromise their safety, or a potential breach of fire regulations it is essential that they report this issue to their landlord or letting agent for investigation.
Landlords Fire Insurance
It goes without saying that a fire in your rental property can be devastating, perhaps being one of the greatest risks to a landlord’s portfolio. Not only does this leave the rental property owners with a sky high repair bill, but costs associated with finding the occupants anew accommodation while the emergency remedial work is carried out, not to mention the loss of rental income. This is why it is essential that landlords give themselves adequate protection through taking out an insurance policy. Whilst those that are new to letting out a property, or that have simply neglected to take out insurance in the past may assume that such instances will typically be covered under standard landlord insurance, however this is not the case. Unfortunately the one size fits all mantra cannot be applied to protecting your rental property against any potential fire damage, requiring the owner of the accommodation to take out several policies in order to be fully safeguarded from the event of a fire in their rental. For this reason it is essential that the specific terms of any existing policies should be examined as they may cover some loss in the event of a fire.
Of course it is worth noting that the specifics of each policy will be slightly different depending on which insurance provider you turn to, however in most cases building insurance for landlords will offer to cover the costs associated with repairing the rental property should it be impacted by fire damage. With this being said, this is where it will become essential for a landlord to possess multiple insurance policies as this will only offer a financial lifeline for the structural repairs of the rental and will not pay out to the landlords for any of the damaged or destroyed items, belongings or furnishings throughout the property.
To this end a landlord will be required to take out an adequate contents insurance policy in order to recuperate the costs of any items or belongings within the rental property that need to be replaced due to a fire. Of course it is also worth noting that if the owner of the rental property takes out a contents insurance policy then this will not grant the same protection to any belongings that the tenants introduce to the rental over the fixed period and they will therefore need to take out their own insurance policies if they wish to be covered.
As is somewhat synonymous with the policy providers themselves, insurance companies are notorious for not paying out, now it goes without saying that this is a sweeping statement to say the least, but does make the point in the need for rental property owners to take note of the circumstance under which the insurance policy provider will not only pay out, but the circumstance by which the claim will be void. Some insurance policies may dictate that the landlord must have all fire safety equipment throughout their rental property, such as smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and fire extinguishers to be maintained and inspected periodically, with landlords that fail to have their safety precautions serviced regularly potentially jeopardising their chances of receiving compensation. With this in mind however, depending on the exact nature of the policy some insurance providers will also cover the costs of replacing spent fire extinguishers and any damage to the property that may have arisen as the emergency services took to tackling the cause of the fire.
Whilst this would be dependent on the extent of the damage caused during the fire to the rental property, if the impairment to the rental was significant enough the tenant may have to be placed into temporary any rent. Of course this leaves the owner of the rental property with no rental income, highlighting the need for them to take out rent guarantee insurance, allowing them to maintain some income and keep from burning too larger hole in their pocket amongst mounting repair, replacement and reconstruction bills.
Fire Safe Furnishings
Naturally when choosing to let out a rental property, a common issue for many landlords is whether or not to let their property in a fully furnished, partly furnished or non-furnished condition. Whilst this debate will in most cases usually boil down to the type of tenant that the landlord wishes to let out their rental opportunity to, or the prevailing demographic of the area, with typical examples being students and young professionals usually looking for places to rent that already offer furnishings, whereas families may want to bring their own belongings along with them. With this being said, something that is far less commonly taken into consideration, but is arguably more important is whether the furnishings and items of upholstery being introduced to the rental opportunity are compliant with fire safety regulations.
It is essential that any furnishings or items’ of upholstery that is found within a rental property is fully compliant with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire safety) Regulations 1988. These regulations set out a minimum level of fire and ignition resistance that many items commonly found within a rental property must meet before he landlord allows tenants to move into the rental property.
It is important to note that the items of upholstery and furnishings that are compliant with the act will have a label attached that clearly outlines these requirements and how they are being met; however in some cases such as pillows, cushions, mattresses and bed cases the label is typically only temporary and landlords must ensure that these are documented separately in a place they can be retrieved upon later inspection by the local authority. It is often advised that landlords exclusively purchase furnishings that have this label still attached; therefore making it far easier to prove its compliance should they need to at a later date.
The fire safety regulations encompass many types of furnishings and contents, most commonly sofas, chairs, curtains, beds, cushions, seating pads, headboards, convertible furniture, nursery furniture, and in some instances even garden furniture such as lawn chairs.
It is also worth mentioning that in a similar vein to contents insurance policies, the landlords are only liable for any furnishings that they bring into the rental opportunity and therefore cannot be held accountable for any belongings or items of furniture that the tenants introduce to the rental property that fails to adhere to these stringent fire safety regulations. With this being said if any of the contents within the rental property the landlord is liable for is found to be in violation of these fire safety regulations then it is likely that the matter will be treated as a criminal offence. Providing that the rental property in question is occupied at the time it is found to be in breach of the regulations not only will the owner of the rental potentially face a six month prison sentence, but a £5,000 fine for each furnishing found to be inadequately fire safe.
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