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Fire safety in the common parts of flats and houses in multiple occupation

Generally, legislation in the PRS will apply to tenancies whether the tenants are all on the same joint contract or if they are renting individual rooms in a property. That is not the case for fire safety though. Landlords who let properties by the room or freeholders in control of communal parts have additional fire safety requirements that they must follow. This reflects the higher risk of death from fire associated with these arrangements.

The person who is responsible for the safety of the building will be the Responsible Person. This will be the person who has control over the communal parts of the building. For instance, in a block of flats this will usually be the freeholder as they will have the controlling interest in the communal parts of the building.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

Where a building is multi-occupied with common parts, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005 (FSO) requires the responsible person to carry out a fire risk assessment and ensure the general fire safety principles are adhered to. This is primarily directed at fire safety in the common parts but needs to consider conditions in the individual flats/units themselves.

What are the fire safety principles?

As the responsible person you must ensure that:

  • measures have been taken to reduce the risk of fire and the risk of spread of fire

  • you provide means of escape and that it can be safely and effectively used

  • there are means for fighting fires

  • there are means to detect fires and give warnings

  • measures to be taken in the event of fire, including instruction, training and to mitigate the effects of fire

Following the Grenfell disaster, the government committed to bringing in further measures in relation to fire safety. Part of this is the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022 that apply from 23rd of January 2022. These regulations aim to reduce the risk of injury or death because of fire.

Most of the new provisions in the regulations apply to the ‘responsible person’ of high-rise buildings, which are those of at least 18 metres in height. Some requirements apply to all buildings where the property is –

  • Split into at least two premises; and

  • There are communal parts that residents must pass through to exit the building

You will also have to comply with these requirements where you own a property where there is a shop on one floor and a residential premises on a second floor, in these cases the common parts are within the scope of these regulations. Where the property is let on a joint tenancy as a whole and therefore there are no communal parts, these requirements do not apply. You may still wish to provide the information, given it is intended to save lives in the event of a fire.

The regulations come into force on January 23rd 2023. These regulations only apply to England now.

Which parts of buildings do the regulations apply to?

These regulations are concerned with the common parts of buildings. They generally will not apply to anything in the self-contained flats or houses within the building itself.

What are the general requirements for those caught by the regulations?

Responsible persons will have to follow two key requirements around fire safety and fire doors.

Fire Safety Instructions

Fire safety instructions must include –

  • The evacuation strategy for the building (e.g. stay put or simultaneous evacuation)

  • Instructions on how to report a fire (e.g. use of 999 or 112, correct address to give to the fire and rescue service, etc.)

  • Any other instructions that tell residents what they must do when a fire has occurred

Fire Door Instructions

Information on the fire doors must state –

  • Fire doors should be shut when not in use

  • Residents or their guests should not tamper with self-closing devices on fire doors

  • Residents should report any fault with, or damage to, fire doors immediately to the responsible person

It should be provided in a clear and easy to understand format to all occupants as soon as is reasonably practical after they take up occupation. It should also be provided to any existing residents within 12 months of these regulations coming into force, and we would recommend doing this as soon as is possible for the safety of the tenants. Lastly, it should also be provided again where there has been a material change to the information. A copy of the information must also be displayed in a conspicuous part of the building.

Additional Responsibilities for properties that are 11 metres or more in height

There are additional responsibilities that are triggered for properties that are 11m+ in height (typically at least 5 storeys). The responsible person must perform checks of the fire doors in the communal parts of the building at least every 3 months. In addition, the individual flat entrance doors should be checked at least every 12 months. In both cases, the checks should ensure that the doors close fully into the frame, overcoming the resistance of any latches or friction with the floor. Government guidance recommends checks can be made by – Opening the door fully, then letting it go; then Opening the door to around 15 degrees and letting it go. Basements are not included when calculating the height of the building. For further information on calculating the height of a building, refer to the government guidance here.

A significant amount of further information and checks are required for high-rise residential buildings. If you are a freeholder of a high-rise residential building, then you should seek specialist advice to ensure you have complied with the requirements.

New requirements from October 1st 2023

On 1st October 2023, the next stage of the Building Safety Act will apply. This has implications for landlords who have control over the communal parts of buildings (the responsible person). This will mean landlords who let properties by the room, or landlords who own larger buildings with several self-contained flats within them. Section 156 of the Building Safety Act updates the requirements around the performance of fire risk assessments and the provision of information to tenants about fire safety risks.

The new requirements mean that the responsible person must –

  • Record their completed fire risk assessment in writing, and in full (previously only specific information was required to be recorded, and a written assessment was not always required)

  • Record the identity of the individual or company that has performed the fire risk assessment

  • Demonstrate how fire safety is managed in the premises

  • Share their contact information, including a UK based address with premises other responsible persons (if applicable) and the tenants.

  • Take reasonable steps to identify any other responsible persons in the same building.

  • Share all relevant fire safety information with incoming responsible persons when giving up control of the property.

  • Provide tenants with relevant fire safety information in a format that is easily understood.

The relevant fire safety information for tenants is:

  • The risks identified by the risk assessment

  • The preventive and protective measures in place

  • The name of the responsible person and a UK address where they, or their representative, can accept notices and documents

  • The identity of any person appointed to assist with the risk assessment

  • The identity of any competent persons nominated by the responsible person

  • Any risks informed to the responsible person

  • Any other matters specified in regulations made by the relevant authority

Please note that, for landlords in England, this is in addition to the information that you are already required to provide because of the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022.

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