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Fire safety – Buy to let Landlords

Please note that the information herein is of a general nature and you should not act or refrain from acting on it without professional advice on the specific facts of your case. No liability is accepted by the author or Sykes Anderson Perry Limited in respect of this article. This is a basic outline only and is intended only as a general guide.

Recent tragic events have prompted concerns by tenants about fire safety in rented properties. This is becoming an issue for landlords with tenants now raising it. There is also heightened awareness of the risk of fire with the greater probability of a fire officer carrying out an inspection. There is the risk of tenants withholding rent if they have grounds for believing the property is unsafe. This article discusses in practical terms landlords’ legal liabilities and some practical steps to take.

What happens if the building catches fire?

The building should be insured against fire and the insurance company should cover you for any damage and rebuilding costs. You should check this cover. You will pay the insurance premium effectively as part of your service charge in the case of flats.

What are building insurance companies likely to do?

Expect insurers to want more checks on fire prevention, alarms and notices in the building.

Also expect premiums to increase.

What about loss of rent?

You need to check what your building insurance policy says. Consider taking out your own cover.

What happens if a tenant is injured or killed?

You need to be careful about criminal charges against you for manslaughter if you know about fire risks and ignore them.

Should I have a clause in my assured shorthold tenancy agreements saying that I have no responsibility for any financial loss my tenants suffer as a result of a fire?

You cannot exclude liability for personal injury or death. However you can have a provision stating that you do not accept liability for loss of belongings or consequential loss such as hotel accommodation.

What practical things should I do as a landlord?

  • In the case of a flat check the freeholder/management company has adequate buildings cover.
  • Make sure all the requirements of the insurer re notices, fire equipment etc. have been complied with.
  • Review your assured shorthold agreements regarding your liability to the tenant for any loss the tenant suffers as a result of fire.
  • Consider whether additional clauses should go in the lease such as prohibiting storing petrol on the premises, having BBQ’s on balconies or other activities which are higher risk. A clause stating that tenants will only bring furniture and appliances into the premises which are safety compliant is a good idea. Also a clause that it is the tenant’s obligation to inform you immediately if they consider there is any fire risk.
  • In the case of flats ask the Management Company whether a fire risk assessment has been carried out recently on the building.
  • Deal promptly with any fire risk issues raised by tenants and make sure any inspection and remedial action is documented and ideally countersigned by the tenants.

What about Landlords with freehold houses?

  •  Make sure the house has fire alarms fitted and they work.
  •  Consider installing a carbon monoxide alarm. If in doubt install more alarms than legally needed.
  •  Ensure any chimney which is in use is being regularly inspected and swept when needed.
  •  Make sure compliant fire walls are installed in lofts and the loft space is not open to neighbours in terraced houses.
  •  If there is any complexity re exit from the house make sure there are clear notices how to vacate. This will be relevant to visitors to the property.
  •  Make sure all exits from the house are clear and doors open easily.
  •  Consider providing a fire extinguisher.
  •  If there are unauthorised rooms, such as attics being used as bedrooms, which could be difficult to vacate, tell the tenants to stop such use.
  •  Any complaints by tenants about appliances/electrics which could give rise to a fire should be dealt with and action taken documented.
  •  Consider replacing old electrical equipment. Check whether any appliances in the house have been subject to a safety recall.
  •  If you provide furniture make sure it is fire retardant and complies with all legal standards.

 

June 2017
Gemma Wright
Solicitor