Did you know that it is a recommendation under the LACORS fire safety guidance provisions, that all landlords should carry out a fire risk assessment on their property before letting to ensure that their property is safe?
Many don’t, and very few people do, so you are not alone, but over the last few weeks, I have been training my new business staff on this very important document, and had then having them carrying out simple Fire risk assessments firstly on their own homes, and then on other peoples properties, and finally drawing up a conversion Fire Safety plan for converting commercial units into HMO’s, Bedsits or Flats so that they really get into the nitty gritty.
It has been a thoroughly rewarding and fascinating exercise, apart from the fact that most of us initially felt the need to move house! Many of us go by day to day, talking about protecting tenants, with mains smoke alarms, electrical certificates, gas certificates, carbon monoxide detectors, and as it appears, then as most of my staff discovered, live in extremely unsafe homes themselves!
If your property was built after 1991 and therefore compliant to the 91 building regulations you are generally ok, unless you have changed it somehow or changed its intended use, so the LACORS manual focuses on those properties constructed before 1991. Many landlords feel that unless they have a HMO or bedsits etc, then all this doesn’t matter, but I’m afraid it does.
The recommendations for a single dwelling property occupied by a normal family is mains fitted, interlinked smoke alarms in the communal areas of a property as standard, with more protection in some cases.
To do a risk assessment on a property (which you can download from the LACORS site) you firstly have to identify the ignition points in a property (what’s most likely to catch fire) like the boiler, gas fire, cooker, gas metres, open fires etc. then you have to identify the type of residents and how mobile are they, old, young, blind, disabled in some way etc. and then consider how they would get out, what is their exit route and how much warning would they need to do so.
Once you have all this information you need to look at what can be done to reduce the risk. One of my staff Becky, lives in a semi with her Nan, who takes the front door key (the only operable exit in the house) to bed with her every night, and on most mornings, to make matter worse, she can’t find where it is, but worryingly given her age and key habits, she had no smoke alarms, with a gas metre under the stairs and a boiler at the top of the stairs, mixed with the inability to get out of the first floor windows this was not a good mix. By the time she smelt or felt the fire, from her bedroom, the house would be filled with smoke and she would never find her key, never mind get down the smoke/fire filled stairs either.
The funniest though was my house (a grade II listed 6 floor farmhouse) I only have battery (non interlinked) smoke alarms on each floor left from previous occupiers, my son’s bedroom is on the top floor and if I shout at the top of my voice from the ground floor he cannot hear me, so definitely would not hear any smoke alarm on the ground or first floor going off, none of the windows opened on the first or higher upper floors, and I also kept the front and side doors locked (with the keys in the key cupboard in the cellar because we never use them) meaning the only useable exit was through the kitchen and laundry (where the boiler, cooker, immersion and AGA is) to make matters worse, I have a complicated twisting dark stairway and no fire fighting equipment and four open fires in the building a bit of a death trap really.
So what do you do move house? Panic? By reading the LACORS document and thinking it through a bit, with a few simple changes, these problems were easily resolved. Becky got her Nan to fit interlinked smoke alarms top and bottom of the stairs and get the back door operable so that there was a second exit, as well as agreeing to leave the front door key near the front door (she’s working on her to get a thumb latch fitted). For my house for about £300 I managed to get interlinked smoke alarms fitted on all floors, bought 3 fire extinguishers for the main levels, a fire blanket for the kitchen, I reviewed my keys for door policy so they all opened in a hurry and in the dark, have torches strategically placed for if there is a power down and spent a weekend getting the windows (sash) to open on the first floor too for alternative escape routes.
But it made me think, what danger are we putting our tenant in by not carrying out these simple checks, installing fire warning systems of some description and checking the means of escapes etc?
For a quick read, a walk round and bit of money, lives could be saved, and I think my staff for sure (and their family’s) are really grateful for our recent training session and they can all sleep more soundly from now on (except maybe Becky’s Nan, who much prefers the k