Fire? The Private Sector Is The Safest Place To Live!
It is unfortunate that we ran out of time at our AGM and had to reschedule the discussion on Fire Safety. This will now take place as part of our September members meeting - everyone welcome, attendance free, as always.
In the interim, and in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, there are some simple steps we should all take to ensure our properties remain as fire safe as is possible. Firstly, don"t rely on Fire Regulations or the advice of local authorities - we have many times advised that student landlords ignore the University advice on Fire Alarms as it is based on LACORS which is out of date and advocates solutions which are less safe than we recommend. In addition, we hear this month that PCC"s Director of Housing left his role without serving notice, alleged by some to be related to the fact that "MORE than half of the city"s tower blocks were missing, or did not have, a valid fire risk assessment" as reported in The News.
That article went on to state, "The information - contained in a council report - emerged as work got underway to remove the cladding from Horatia House and Leamington House in Somers Town after tests found it was a fire risk. Councillor John Ferret, chair of the governance & audits & standards committee said "There looks to be a systematic failure to carry out basic fire risk assessments. It will now be the job of the committee to take into account why this was allowed to happen and that we make sure everything is done to remedy the situation." Of the 39 tower blocks owned by Portsmouth City Council that are six storeys or over, testing before the blaze confirmed that seven blocks of flats were missing a current fire risk assessment and 15 had an expired assessment. Figures contained in a report for the council"s governance, audits and standards committee also revealed that of the 712 council-owned properties, which are five storeys or lower, analysis found that 280 did not have an assessment date, with 171 properties overdue a review."
As landlords, we have to be responsible for the safety of our tenants - LACORS and HHSRS are bureaucratic minefields that both need to be abolished and replaced by guidance which is fit for purpose in our view - but until that happens, there are a few things you should think about to ensure your tenants are as safe as possible....
We hope that reviews by social and private landlords around the city pay special attention to all of the new student halls. Any new tower built under current regulations needs to have a sprinkler system yet student halls are exempt (apparently due to the annoyance of drunken students setting them off in the early hours). Whether that exemption is sensible, only time will tell, but many will remember the Uni"s own attempt at building a statement student hall (The Blade) on the site of the old Victoria Swimming Baths was abandoned after local residents, students and the council all argued that the development should only go ahead if sprinklers were included. The good news in this area is that the 800 room Unite building in Greetham Street which opened last year does have sprinklers, the bad news is that the cladding just failed flammability tests...
After news last year that social housing provider First Wessex had 'forgotten" to update gas safety certificates in many of its properties these revelations confirm that the Private Sector is probably the safest place to live, but we need to be vigilant and with that in mind, we recommend the following:
- Have a smoke detector on every floor of your property (ideally in hallways or escape routes)
- Have a heat detector near cookers and similar appliances
- Use Carbon Monoxide detectors where you have gas appliances (but at least 2m away from them)
- Ensure all detectors are interlinked - we recommend 10 year lithium batteries Wi-Fi interlinked as they still work during power cuts, last longer than hardwired main solutions and are much cheaper to install
- Every time you visit the property, make it a habit to test the alarms
- Seriously consider putting fire blankets in kitchens (but not extinguishers) - blankets are already mandatory in HMO's
- At check-in and periodically afterward, ensure tenants know how to get out of the property if there is a fire
- Make sure detectors are not going off, for example, when tenants burn toast, as anything that results in a tenant ignoring an alarm could be fatal.
- Do a fire risk assessment in each of your properties: consider where fires could start and where people might be, how they would realise there is a fire and how they could get out. What would make it easier or safer? It is not rocket science and only takes a few minutes
- And for further hints and tips check the RLA advice on the topic
And once you have made sure all your tenants are safe, do look at your own home through the same lens - most private homes rarely take any of the above steps, but no reason why we should not be as safe as our tenants.