Fire safety in houses in multiple occupation

Houses in multiple occupation are those which are shared by three or more unrelated persons. Historically fires in HMOs have been more prevalent than in single homes. Larger HMOs will required a licence from the Council, however different laws apply to all HMOs in relation to fire safety. A higher standard of fire precaution and protection is required in houses of multiple occupation compared to that of a single occupied dwelling. The exact measures depend on the property size, layout and type of letting.

What is the law concerning fire safety at my HMO?

Enforcement of fire safety in HMO property is carried out by the Council and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority. The law is quite complex and is derived from a number of Acts & Regulations (those detailed below provide the main laws and regulations enforced by Housing Enforcement Officers, but is not exhaustive). The following information is a brief overview & we are happy to provide specific information for your property. Please use the e-form below to contact us with a specific query. 

Housing Act 2004 - Part 1 - This legislation provides officers from the Housing Enforcement team with a system to risk rate 29 hazards using the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) (for more detailed information on this system, please refer to our Housing Standards Page.) One of the 29 hazards is fire safety, giving officers the ability to conduct a full property inspection and suggest measures which will reduce the hazard of Fire to an acceptable level. Enforcement of Part 1 powers can only stem from an inspection carried out under the HHSRS and you will know in advance if we plan to carry out an inspection (in all but emergency situations, we must notify both owner and tenants of inspections). In very general terms officers will consider the likelihood of a fire starting and the severity of its effects on health. Key control measures are likely to be the form of automatic fire detection and the ability of the building to resist the spread of fire and passage of smoke (often called compartmentation). What will be considered appropriate as controls will depend very much on the size and layout of the property but also the nature of tenancies granted (properties let to one identifiable group e.g. students, are considered lower risk than individual tenancies with exclusive possession of individual bedrooms). Detailed guidance can be found on this in the LACORS Fire Safety Guidance, available in the downloads section (you may find the specific examples from page 36 onwards of particular use). 

Housing Act 2004 - Part 2 - Under this part, Councils have the power to implement and enforce licensing of HMOs. All HMOs with five ore more occupiers will require a licence. All licences must contain conditions relating to the provision of fire alarms, how they must be maintained, maintenance of electrical items, & a restriction on the maximum number of tenants permitted. Further, Housing Enforcement Officers have the ability to add conditions to a licence (sometimes called discretionary conditions). The addition of discretionary conditions is likely to stem from an inspection of the property for the purposes of granting a licence.  In the interests of consistency, officers shall have regard to the LACORS Fire Safety Guidance (available in the downloads section) and may consult with South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service. 

The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 - Faulty wiring is a leading cause of fire in homes. There is a legal requirement for landlords to ensure every electrical installation, in property they rent, is inspected and tested at intervals of no more than 5 years, by a qualified and competent person. Please visit our electrical safety page for full details. 

The HMO Management Regulations - These regulations place a number of requirements on all HMO landlords to take safety measures in their property. In terms of fire safety, the important duties are to:

  • Keep the means of escape free from obstruction
  • Maintain fire fighting equipment and fire alarms in good working order
  • Requirement to ensure signage for the escape route are clear.
  • Maintain appliances in a safe working condition.
  • Ensure adequate lighting of common parts
  • Maintain fire doors in good working order
  • Maintain the internal structure in good repair (for example this could include poor quality plastering on the means of escape, compromising fire resistance.  

Building Regulations - Whenever building works are being carried out in a property, it's important to consider whether or not the works need to comply with Building Regulations. Generally, the more complex and involved the works, the more likely it is that Building Regulations will apply. You can find out when Building Regulation approval is needed from our Building Control team. If you are converting a non-HMO property to HMO use, you will need to contact Building Control. 

 The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 - These regulations apply to all landlords of all property types. They require that a smoke alarm is provided on each level of the property where sleeping accommodation is provided (& also a Carbon Monoxide alarm in any room used as living accommodation which contains a fixed combustion appliance (excluding gas cookers) - we strongly advise against solid fuel burning appliances in HMOs). Please note that once installed landlords have a duty to maintain fire detection equipment. For more information on these regulations, please visit our general fire safety page

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order - Commonly referred to as the "the fire safety order" this legislation is enforced by the Fire Service. This applies to the common parts of HMOs and blocks of flats but not in shared houses where all tenants have legal possession of all parts of the house. It places a requirement on landlords to carry out a fire risk assessment. Please refer to the risk assessment document for sleeping accommodation located in the downloads section. This will guide you in terms of what to do to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment. Although by law, the requirement for a written assessment applies only to properties with five or more occupiers or where a licence in in force, we recommend that all HMO landlords, irrespective of size document, monitor and review their risk assessment. If you are not confident in carrying out your own risk assessment, please employ a fire safety consultant who can do this for you. 

How often should I test my fire alarm?

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question and the answer depends on the type of system. It's important you have regard to the manufacturer's instructions concerning testing and maintenance and it's good practice to retain these documents as an appendix to your fire safety risk assessment. 

In general and unless your own risk assessment or manufacturer's instructions dictate otherwise, we recommend the following:

Small HMOs - Grade D Systems (mains powered, wired from existing lighting circuit, no central alarm panel)
  • Routine testing once per month by pressing the test button
  • Annual smoke response testing. Aerosols are available that mimic the effect of smoke entering into the alarm chamber. Never use actual smoke or a naked flame. We recommend using a specialist fire engineer for this type of work. 

Testing should be recorded and held in a format directed by the fire risk assessment.

Large HMOs - Grade A Systems (mains powered, wired on independent circuit, central control panel). 

  • Routine testing - press the test button on at least one smoke alarm in each zone on a weekly basis.

  • Check the control panel for any indication of faults or triggered alarms

  • You should have a maintenance contract for this type of system. Six monthly testing should be carried out by a competent person. This type of testing is a requirement under the relevant British Standard (BS5839). Ask for a periodic inspection and test certificate - we may ask for this for licensing purposes or under the HMO management regulations. 

Please be aware that it is a licensing condition that the landlord's or manager's details are displayed in a prominent position in the common parts. We rely on this, in case we discover a fault during inspection and need to contact you.

Do I need fire extinguishers & fire blankets?

 You should be guided by your own fire risk assessment but in general we do not require fire extinguishers. We may do so in large HMOs where there is a long and complex escape route or another feature of the building that causes an exceptional risk. The reason for this is that the main aim of a fire safety strategy should be to encourage occupiers to exit the building safely and as quickly as possible. Whilst we appreciate that fire extinguishers can be useful in fighting small fires, they can lead to a situation where occupiers attempt to put out a fire when it would be safer to get out. Further to this, if fire extinguishers are provided, training should be provided on how to use them and they need to be maintained at least annually. 

Fire blankets are required by regulation & are to be located in close proximity to the cooking area. Fire blankets are quick to use and should not lead to a situation where the tenant remains in the property attempting to fight a fire. Fire blankets must:

  • Be of a light duty type capable of dealing with small cooking fire and situation where clothing has caught light.
  • Located approximately 1.5m above floor level. 
  • Comply with BS 6575

 Do I need to make sure the cellar ceiling at my HMO is 30 minute fire resistant & should my fire detection system cover the basement?

Cellars pose a fire risk largely due to the presence of the electrical installation and meters. Careful management is needed to prevent tenants from storing waste in cellars which can be a fuel source in a fire. Your risk assessment will need to address the risk of a fire starting in the cellar. A smoke detector interlinked with the rest of the system should be provided in the cellar. Our guidance is that cellars should be 30 minute fire resistant to prevent the spread of fire upwards to the rooms above. Please be aware this requirement also applies to the spandrel & soffit of the staircase. A 30 minute fire door with intumescent strips and brush cold smoke seals should be fitted at the head of the basement stairs.This requirement could be relaxed in HMOs of less than 3 storeys in situations where the existing ceiling is in good condition. 

Do Building Control and Housing Enforcement work to the same standards concerning HMOs?

Whilst there are close links between Housing Enforcement and Building Control, the legislation used by each department is different and this can lead to a regrettable situation where there are two departments with varying requirements. Recently we have begun to work even more closely with Building Control in the hope of further reducing any regulatory diversion. However you should not rely on a completion certificate from Building Control for providing confirmation of compliance with all aspects of fire safety in HMOs. 

One key difference is that the most significant changes in what's required from a Building Control perspective occurs in HMO developments with more than 6 occupiers. At this point the works are treated as conversion to rooms for residential purposes where as they remain as a dwelling house below this number. You should contact Building Control for advice if you are considering converting any single occupied property to HMO use. Please use this link to find Building Control advice. We also advise you contact us before commencing any HMO conversion work. Please use the e-form below to do so. 

Do I need to provide fire doors?

This depends very much on size, layout and how you intend to let the property. Your fire risk assessment will need to address whether or not fire doors are required and if required, what type are required. Shared house HMOs, let to one identifiable group where there is no exclusive possession of any part of the property are considered lower risk. Where as bedsits with exclusive possession over bedrooms are considered to be higher risk. This is reflected in the examples provided in the LACORS Guidance available from the downloads section. When carrying out an inspection, Housing Enforcement officers must consider the overall fire risk posed by the individual situation at the property, there is therefore no black and white answer concerning where we may impose requirements for fire doors. If there are no circumstances leading to a variation in risk level, fire doors are not required in shared houses of two storeys and below. For bedsit type HMOs our guidance is that fire doors with smoke seals should be provided to all risk rooms (all rooms except bathrooms). For a full list of examples, please refer to p36 of the LACORS gudiance or contact us using the e-form to ask a question. 

 Do I need to provide emergency lighting?

Your fire risk assessment will need to address the possibility of a fire which leads to a power failure, therefore leaving the means of escape without lighting. Please be aware that the fire service have enforcement power over the common parts of HMOs and their requirements could vary from ours. Our guidance is that for shared houses or bedsits of up to 4 storeys, where the escape route is neither long or complex and where there is effective borrowed light, emergency lighting is not required. There should always be adequate conventional lighting along the length of the means of escape. 

If you have emergency lighting in your HMO, you will need routine testing and inspection in line with the requirements of BS 5266. Please ask your fire specialist about what frequency of testing and inspection is appropriate for your building. 



Last updated: 21 November 2023 08:58:43

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