The ultimate guide to fire safety regulations for landlords - Total Landlord Insurance

September 22, 2022
The ultimate guide to fire safety regulations for landlords - Total Landlord Insurance

Read an interactive and user-friendly version of this guide below.

As a landlord, you have a legal obligation to provide safe accommodation for your tenants, and fire safety plays a big part.

A fire in your property, no matter how big or small, can cause significant damage and fire damage claims are among the most expensive that insurers receive – our average fire claim over the past five years has been more than £22,000 – our infographic highlights the fire related insurance claims that have occurred from the past five years.

As a landlord, it’s crucial that you have an appropriate insurance policy that will cover you in case your property is damaged or even completely destroyed by fire.

While taking appropriate fire safety measures in your rental property is hugely important, you also have to make sure your tenants know what they should do – both to help prevent fire breaking out in the first place and in case of an emergency.  This should be covered when you or the agent check them into the property and we also recommend including a fire safety sheet in the property information pack, detailing everything they need to know, such as: how often to test smoke alarms, the main escape routes from the property and the importance of not overloading electrical sockets.  

Be aware that if you breach fire safety laws, you could be fined up to £30,000 by your local council, prosecuted in court with an unlimited fine and may even face jail time for the most serious violations, particularly if they result in the injury or death of a tenant.

In December 2021, a landlord in London was ordered to pay more than £20,000 for fire safety breaches. One of his tenants raised concerns with the council and when inspectors visited the property, they found that fire doors had been removed on the ground floor, there was no emergency lighting and no fire alarm. The tenants were evacuated immediately, and the landlord was later charged with six offences under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. He was fined £500 for each offence and ordered to pay £17,335 in costs.

Under one roof

Here, we cover your legal obligations around fire safety and also the things that are considered good practice for landlords when it comes to keeping your tenants safe. The consequences of fire can be devastating, so it’s well worth going over and above the minimum legal requirements. That will give you peace of mind that, should the worst happen, you did all that could reasonably be expected of you.

And here’s a handy summary in case you want to jump to any section that’s of particular interest:

  1. Fire risk assessment
  2. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
  3. Access to escape routes
  4. Fire-safe furnishings
  5. Fire doors
  6. Electrical safety
  7. Gas safety
  8. Fire extinguishers
  9. Ban smoking
  10. Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)
  • Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022
  • Building Safety Act

Note: The information below relates to single-let properties in England and Wales. The fire safety rules for Houses in Multiple Occupation are different.

In Scotland, basic fire safety guidance for assessing risks and removing potential fire hazards is much the same as in England & Wales, although there are some differences – mainly in relation to the location of fire alarms. Full fire safety information is available on the Scottish Government website.

1. Carry out a fire risk assessment

The first step to reducing the risk of fire in your property is to carry out a fire safety risk assessment.

Unlike gas and electrics, there is no fire safety certificate to obtain, however landlords in England and Wales are required to carry out fire risk assessments periodically under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

The risk assessment will take you through the property, step by step, so you can:

  • Identify possible causes and potential sources of fire
  • Assess the likelihood of fire breaking out
  • Identify potential hazards
  • See what sensible precautions could be taken to mitigate the risks

Who is responsible for completing a fire risk assessment?

You can carry out the fire risk assessment yourself but may prefer to use a third-party fire safety specialist. As professionals in the field, they can often spot potential risks and make recommendations that might not have occurred to you.

The cost can vary, depending on the size of the property, but it’s likely to be around £300 for an average family home. Once you’ve had an initial professional assessment, you may then feel confident enough to review and update it yourself in future. We’ve put together a useful landlord fire risk assessment template to help you, which you can download here.

How often should a fire risk assessment be reviewed?

Although there aren’t any hard and fast rules around how often you should review or update your fire risk assessment, the general advice is:

  • For modern buildings of up to three storeys, review the assessment every two years and update it every four
  • For older buildings or those over three storeys, review the assessment annually and update it every three years

2. Install smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms

Landlords must make sure that all smoke and CO alarms are working at the start of each tenancy, and tenants should be encouraged to check their alarms on a monthly basis. It’s also good practice for you or your managing agent to check the alarms during periodical inspections and keep a written record.

Legally, in England, every floor in a private rented property must be fitted with a working smoke alarm, which is generally best placed in the main circulation space, i.e. the hallway and landings.

A carbon monoxide (CO) detector must be fitted in any room that has a solid fuel-burning appliance, such as a gas or open fire. This is due to extend to gas and oil-fired boilers in autumn 2022.

Safelincs also recommends installing a heat alarm in the kitchen, although this is only a legal requirement in HMOs.

For full information, including guidance for Scotland and Wales, see our separate guide, Are you compliant with smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector regulations?

Landlord fire risk assessment template

Download our useful landlord fire risk assessment template

Download now

3. Make sure tenants have clear access to escape routes at all times

Landlords must make sure that tenants have a safe and reliable way to escape if fire breaks out. While there are no firm legal requirements for emergency lighting and fire doors unless the property is an HMO, it’s advisable to:

  • Install fire doors in high-risk rooms, such as the kitchen and any room with a working fire, to prevent fire spreading into an escape route
  • Fit thumb-turn locks on the inside of front and rear main exit doors, so tenants can quickly and easily unlock them without needing to find a key
  • Make sure there’s a window in the ground floor main living room that tenants could easily climb out of if fire were blocking other routes out of the property

Make sure your tenants know how to exit the property as quickly as possible in case of an emergency and that they must keep escape routes clear at all times. Having a clear emergency exit plan can make all the difference to saving lives in the event of a fire.

4. Check all furnishings meet fire safety standards

If your rental property is furnished, the furniture you provide must be fire resistant and meet fire safety standards, as per the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988, last updated in 2010.

Items of furniture and upholstery covered by the regulations include:

  • beds, headboards, mattresses and pillows
  • sofas and futons
  • scatter cushions and seat pads
  • loose covers for furniture
  • garden furniture suitable for use in a home

The regulations don’t apply to:

  • Bedclothes, including duvets and pillowcases
  • Mattress protectors/covers
  • Carpets and curtains
  • Furniture made prior to 1950

Compliant furniture and furnishings will bear manufacturers’ labels confirming the relevant requirements have been met – usually these will be ‘match’ and ‘cigarette’ test labels – and these labels should not be removed.

When Fire Starts! Insurance Claims 2016-2021

Our infographic highlights the fire related insurance claims that have occurred from the past five years.

View now

5. Install fire doors

Although fire doors are only legally required in HMOs, it’s worth considering installing them in any rental property. Fire doors help to delay the spread of fire and smoke, giving your tenants valuable extra time to escape the building, and can also greatly reduce the damage caused to your property.

As a minimum, it’s advisable to fit fire doors in rooms that are at high risk of fire breaking out, such as kitchens and any room where there are a lot of electrical appliances, an open fire or a log burner.

Some key things to know:

  • Both the door and the door frame should be fire resistant for at least 30 minutes, shown by an ‘FD30’ code
  • There should be an intumescent strip that expands to seal the gap between the door and the frame when exposed to heat
  • Hinges, door handles and locks should be bought together as part of the door set
  • A self-closing mechanism should be fitted to all fire doors
  • Fire doors should always be fitted by a competent installer, according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Fire doors should be inspected periodically – see this handy five step fire door check

Importantly, make sure the tenants know they must not prop open any fire doors or disable any of the self-closing devices. Not only is it dangerous for them, but it may violate the terms of any property licence and invalidate your landlord insurance. For convenience, you can fit sound-triggered or hard-wired door retainers, which hold fire doors open but release when a fire alarm is activated.

If you’d like more information, Fire Door Safety Week runs every September and their website is full of great advice on which fire doors to buy, how to install them and why they’re so important. You can also read our article on fire door safety for landlords here.

6. Make sure electrical safety checks are carried out

According to the Government, faulty electrics – that’s appliances, wiring and overloaded sockets – cause around 4,000 fires in homes across England every year.

Landlords in England must make sure that any privately rented property’s electrical system and any electrical appliances supplied to tenants are safe throughout the tenancy.

Under The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020, a full electrical safety inspection and test must be carried out every five years – sooner if it was recommended on the previous Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR).

The Registered Competent Person Electrical website has a list of contractors that are registered to undertake electrical safety reports in England and Wales, or you can find a competent electrician via NAPIT, one of the UK’s leading government-approved membership schemes.

Portable appliance testing (PAT)

While there’s no specific legal requirement around testing any electrical items you’ve provided, you are obliged to make sure they’re safe. And the best way to do that is to have a portable appliance test carried out.

The first thing to note is that all electrical appliances must carry the British Safety Standard kitemark sign.

Then it’s good practice to have a PAT carried out by an electrician or certified PAT tester every one to two years.

The test itself involves a visual check for any signs of damage or wear, then a machine test to make sure it works as it should and your tenants aren’t at risk of an electric shock. Any item that fails should be removed from the property and either repaired or replaced.

Tip: Warn tenants that if they overload sockets, that will increase the risk of fire breaking out. Ideally, when you’re preparing a property to rent, have an electrician add extra sockets – certainly in the main living room, bedrooms and kitchen – reducing the need for tenants to use extension leads or multi-socket adapters.

7. Comply with gas safety requirements

A gas leak in your property could be hazardous to your tenants in two ways:

  1. It could cause carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning
  2. The risk of fire and explosion increases substantially, as natural gas is highly flammable

The law requires you to have your gas appliances checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer every year to make sure they’re working properly and there’s no risk to tenants.

In addition to the annual gas safety check, the Gas Safe Register also recommends you have a service of the gas appliances and flues every 12 months, unless one of their registered engineers advises otherwise.

For more detailed information, read our ultimate guide to gas safety and landlord gas safety certificates.

8. Provide fire extinguishers and fire blankets

Extinguishers and fire blankets are not legally required in single-let rented properties, only HMOs, but you may wish to provide them as a matter of good practice.

In HMOs, the minimum requirements are:

  • A multi-purpose (water mist) fire extinguisher in the common parts on each floor, usually the hall and landings (around £50-£60 each)
  • A fire blanket in the kitchen (around £15)

If you do have fire extinguishers, they should be serviced annually and checked at the start of each tenancy to make sure they’re in good condition and haven’t been tampered with.

“Water mist fire extinguishers are recommended by the British Standard for indoor use, as they can be applied with most fire types. It is a legal requirement that all fire extinguishers are maintained annually. This involves a visual inspection by the landlord or representative following the guidance of the manufacturer. It is also a legal requirement to keep a permanent record of all servicing and maintenance.”

Cooke and Bern, specialists in fire safety protection

9. Ban smoking inside

According to the London Fire Brigade, more than  a quarter of  fire-related deaths between 2014 and 2018 were due to fires caused by smoking.

Banning smoking indoors in your rental property not only helps reduce the risk of fire, but it also means a better atmosphere for non-smoking tenants and less chance that floors, carpets and surfaces will be damaged by burn marks.

Also, remind tenants that candles should always be in a suitable holder, never put near curtains or other materials that could catch fire, and extinguished properly before they go to bed.

10. Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs)

Because of the increased risks associated with having multiple unrelated tenants in a property, the fire safety regulations are tighter for HMOs.

  1. Every HMO must have a written risk assessment carried out annually.
  2. Fire alarms. Every HMO must have:
  • A smoke alarm on each storey where there is living accommodation
  • A smoke alarm in each individual ‘unit’ (i.e. bedroom or bedsit)
  • A heat alarm in high-risk rooms, such as kitchens

The alarms must be interconnected and mains powered. If the HMO is three storeys or higher, an alarm system with a central panel is required.

Landlords must also:

  • Make sure the alarm system is maintained in good working order
  • Have a competent person carry out maintenance on the fire alarm system, according to the manufacturer’s instructions  
  • Provide evidence of the regular checking/servicing of fire alarms to the local authority on request
  1. Additional fire safety requirements for HMOs:
  • Thumb-turn locks on the main exit doors
  • Fire doors, fitted with closers
  • Simple multi-purpose fire extinguishers on each floor in the common parts (e.g. hallway and landings)
  • A fire blanket in the kitchen
  • Annual PAT tests on all electrical items provided

Your local authority may impose other requirements, such as emergency lighting and escape route signage, so you must check with the housing department before letting the property.

We recommend landlords of HMOs also have a local fire safety officer visit the property to confirm the legal obligations that apply and advise you on the most appropriate steps to take.

Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022

In May 2022, the Government announced the commencement of the Fire Safety Act and new regulations that deliver fire safety improvements in multi-occupied residential buildings (HMOs). These new duties for building owners or managers include:

  • Ensuring that fire and rescue services have the information they need to plan their response to a fire in a high-rise building
  • Providing residents with fire safety instructions and information on the importance of fire doors
  • For buildings over 11m in height, annual checks of flat entrance doors and quarterly checks of all fire doors in the common parts

For more information, visit GOV.UK.

“Ignoring these changes will lead to claims for redress and in extreme cases, a criminal prosecution – so do not take these responsibilities lightly.”

Sean Hooker, head of redress at Property Redress Scheme

Improved safety for blocks of flats following Grenfell

Since the Grenfell Tower fire, various changes have been made to the rules around fire safety for blocks of flats. These are mainly concerned with the removal of dangerous cladding, which was what caused the fire at Grenfell to spread so quickly.

Owners of flats in buildings with cladding now require an EWS1 form to sell or re-mortgage their property. A professional assessor must check specific fire safety standards for the main construction of the building, including inspecting the cladding. Only one assessment is needed per building – i.e. flats don’t need to be individually assessed – and the EWS1 form is valid for five years.

At the end of April 2022, the Building Safety Act was passed, which will fundamentally change how buildings are designed, built and managed and bring forward “the biggest improvements in building safety for a generation.” (DLUHC)  

And on 28 June 2022 protections came into force under the Act for qualifying leaseholders of properties in a building above 11 metres or five  storeys. As long you own no more than three UK residential properties:

  • You won’t have to pay to remove dangerous cladding
  • The amount you can be asked to contribute to fixing other historical building safety defects is firmly capped

Developers that have signed the Government’s Building Safety Pledge will pay to fix all life-critical fire-safety risks, including non-cladding defects.

While much of the legislation under the Building Safety Act has still to be clarified, some of the key changes include:

  • A new Building Safety Regulator will be created, to facilitate building safety in higher-risk buildings
  • There will be a new Building Control Regime for higher-risk buildings of at least 18m in height or at least seven storeys, with a new system of registration and supervision of building inspectors and ‘approvers’
  • New provisions for assessing and managing safety in higher-risk buildings
  • The Landlord and Tenant Act will be amended so landlords are obliged to comply with their building safety duties and any special measures orders, and they will be able to recover the costs through building safety charges payable by leaseholders (with certain protections)

See GOV.UK for more information.

Need a fire risk assessment template? Download our useful landlord fire risk assessment template here

Become a Total Landlord.
Get a quote for our award winning landlord insurance.