Do you let a flat? Then don’t forget that, since October 2015, landlords are legally required to install smoke alarms in rental properties and could face fines of up to £5,000 if they fail to comply.
Most fires in the home start accidentally and ensuring you have working smoke alarms in your flat(s) will provide occupants with a vital early warning of danger; so whatever else you do, be sure to ask tenants to test them regularly.
Remember, that most flats are designed to contain fire behind the individual dwelling’s front door. Behind that front door, it is up to you and your tenants to take precautions.
Beyond your front door, the freehold landlord or managing agent has a legal duty to arrange for a fire risk assessment to be carried out on the communal areas of your building, and for it to be kept under review; however, this won’t work unless you help keep these areas safe.
Here are some suggestions from ARMA, the managing agents’ professional body. It is up to you, not the managing agents, to make sure that your tenants are aware of and comply with the block’s rules and covenants.
- Don’t obstruct the communal areas, which often from the fire escape route for the block
- Don’t prop open fire doors in communal areas
- Don’t clutter the stairs, corridors and landings with personal items or things that can set fire easily
- Don’t store prams, bicycles or mobility scooters in communal areas without the permission of the landlord or managing agent. If they consider that fire safety of the block is put at risk, they will not give you permission
- If you see anything in the communal areas that doesn’t belong there, remove it or tell your landlord or managing agent
- Don’t store flammable materials in cupboards that have electrical circuits
- Make sure you put all rubbish in the bins provided — don’t leave it lying around in the refuse area as this can easily be set on fire
As a minimum, each flat should have a smoke alarm in every room that is used regularly, as well as in the hallway. Pay special attention to rooms where electrical equipment is left switched on, such as living rooms or bedrooms. Fire brigades recommend fitting smoke alarms that come with a 10-year long-lasting sealed battery and, of course, the whole units need to be replaced at the end of their useful life. That removes the risk of tenants disconnecting them because of nuisance alarms.
Steam in kitchens and bathrooms can damage smoke alarms, and some people prefer to fit a heat detector in the kitchen instead. You should also avoid fitting smoke alarms on walls, as this could result in a delay in the alarm activating because of the smoke needing to travel along the ceiling and down the walls before it reaches the detector.
If in doubt, you can always book a free home safety visit from your local fire service via your local authority website.
In blocks of flats, it is often better to stay put behind your own front fire-resistant door if a fire breaks out elsewhere in the building. So, as well as doing your best to prevent fire in the first place, you do need to make sure your tenants know the building’s policy on what to do if fire breaks out. Make sure you are fully aware of the policy for your building and pass it on.
The all-important front door
The front door of a flat should be fire resistant so that it will prevent fire and smoke from spreading to the communal areas and cutting off the escape routes. That’s why you and your tenants should never alter the your front door without taking advice on the implications it would have for fire safety.
It should have a self-closing device fitted to meet current fire safety guidance for flats — and you should never remove this. Even altering the letterbox or adding a cat flap can affect the fire safety of your building and the communal escape routes. Always ask permission from your landlord or managing agent first.
The London Fire Brigade has a useful form to help you assess your own fire risks and give you food for thought. You may also find the guidance freely offered by the Association of Residential Managing Agents useful.