- Many blocks built in the 60’s and 70’s have had lift upgrades and newer lift needs smaller shafts, so we have blocks with a sealed off ‘chimney’ at the back of modern lifts which is likely to be a major fire hazard (containment is and will increasingly become, the big focus going forward – if a fire starts, it needs to be contained and stopped from spreading and that means no chimneys!). So you have a block with a 60’s lift shaft and a modern lift? Updates are likely to be needed to remove the ‘chimney’ in the future, who is responsible? You can argue it is the freeholder/managing agent at the expense of the leaseholders if there are any….
- But what about a building that had trunking for internet and TV attached to the outside by, say Virgin or BT and which was then clad by company ABC to spruce up the look of the building last time it was updated.
- There were also tales of tenant ignorance of the basics of keeping oneself safe. The last thing fire crews want are people flooding down stair ways when they are trying to take emergency equipment up, but after 9/11 and Grenfell who can blame them. But for individual containment zones to work, fire doors need to be closed and potential chimneys or wind tunnels need to be avoided - hard to do when neighbours on each side of the hall prop doors open and open windows in order to cool down the interior....
We expect many debates between the various contractors and suppliers, freeholders, landlords, managing agents, leaseholders and tenants about liability for necessary changes. And don’t be surprised if a number of local authorities and government agencies are not subject to litigation in an attempt to recover costs for changes from solutions previously condoned or approved.
What does this all mean for us?
Whether you have a flat in a tower block or a small unattached house, there are some basic rules that apply to us all. Unfortunately these have been confusing in the past although as explained below that situation may be about to change. Whether it does or not, you are responsible for the basic safety of your tenants so we recommend that you adhere to the guidelines below.
Until new regulations are published all we have is the mess of ‘non-binding’ guidance of LACORS and much of the subsequent guidance added in the 10 years or so since it was last updated. Good news is that PCC will be releasing new ‘standards’ for HMO landlords in January which we will share with all members, whether HMO landlords or not. These new standards promise to include a simple section on fire safety.
Whether it is simple and / or comprehensive enough, there are some obvious things we can and all should be doing already:
- At least one smoke alarm on every floor of the building, on the ceiling not the wall, ideally in an open area on the main ‘escape route’
- Carbon monoxide detectors in all rooms that have open gas appliances (so many new boilers are sealed from the room they are in and do not need it, but older boilers, gas hobs or cookers, gas fires or anything else that burn gas will need one)
- Heat detectors in kitchens. There is no point putting a smoke alarm in a kitchen which will go off everytime someone burns the toast, but you do need forewarning of a major fire.
- All detectors need to be interlinked. We prefer lithium battery Wi-Fi detectors (£25-40 each) because they cannot be tampered with, do not need backup batteries, are cheap and easy to install and work in a power cut, but the old style hard wired ones are fine too.
- Check the dates on all detectors and make sure they are replaced before they expire
- Test detectors regularly (at least monthly)
- If the main route from the bedrooms to the front door passes through the most likely cause of fire (kitchen/lounge) make sure there is an alternative
- Even if the main route does not pass through, make sure there are fire safe doors that can be shut in the event of fire
- Where fire doors exist, make sure they are not propped or wedged open
- On the main escape route (hallways, stairs, etc) make sure it is always clear and there are no obstructions, whether that be bikes or piles of old newspapers, bookcases or whatever.
- Make sure your tenants know you take fire risk seriously and encourage them to do the same. Ask them how they would get out if, say, there was a fire in the kitchen.
- Make sure exit can be made without the need for any keys or bolts – thumbturn locks could make the difference….
- And get them to take responsibility for each other. In HMO’s tenants have a nasty habit of ignoring other tenants as we found last year when the house of one of our previous Chairmen burnt down as the tenant heard the alarms but assumed someone was cooking…..
Fortunately, in that case, the fire service broke down the door and rescued him.