New regulations requiring landlords to install smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in their rental properties have been laid before Parliament and are expected to come into force, subject to approval, on 10th October 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.
According to the Government’s impact assessment, over 200 lives could be saved over the next 10 years by this legislation. Most landlords and agents will support it, but many will carry on failing to take their duty of care seriously – virtually every week landlords are prosecuted for breaching safety regulations.
It’s not just landlords who break the law. A Liverpool estate agent was fined £12,100 + costs for 54 safety breaches.
A recent court case highlights the blatantly neglect of their duty of care, putting their tenants lives and properties at risk. In March 2014, a landlord in Lytham St Annes was fined for breaking fire safety law and was fined a total of £72,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £8,700 and a victim surcharge of £120. Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service successfully prosecuted Stuart De’Ath for 18 separate breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 relating to three of his premises.
ESTATE AGENTS ALSO GUILTY
It’s not just landlords that are breaching fire safety rules. Last year, a Liverpool estate agent was fined £12,100 together with court costs running into many thousands, for 54 safety breaches on a house.
The fire alarm system was inoperative and displaced from the wall, the electricity supply had been bypassed 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.
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, obvious rules which agents and landlords can remind tenants of at the start of the tenancy and at periodic property inspections.
- 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 and on every floor. Show tenants how to test them, and 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 and false alarms are very unlikely. They do not alarm when the toast is burnt or after a hot steamy shower. When a carbon monoxide alarm indicates the presence of carbon monoxide, it must not be ignored. 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 fi re 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 e.g. 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 two 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.
- LetRisks is a leading provider of specialist risk management and insurance solutions to the residential let property market, including tenant referencing services and specialist insurance for landlords and tenants.