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?
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 risk assessment and suggest measures which will reduce the hazard 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 landlords 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. HMOs with 4 or more occupiers will require licensing in certain parts of the centre of Doncaster, please refer to our HMO Licensing Page for further info. 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).
The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 - Faulty wiring is a leading cause of fire in homes. There is now a legal requirement for landlords 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 singage 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 at your property, it's important that you 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 a guide as to when you need Building Regulation approval on the Planning Portal website or you can seek advice from our Building Control team. If you are converting 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 where there is a solid fuel appliance -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?
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?
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?
Do Building Control and Housing Enforcement work to the same standards concerning 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?
Do I need to provide emergency lighting?
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.
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