PCC have a duty to operate a scheme to licence any property which is used as an HMO for 5 or more people, but they continue to add unnecessary and unrealistic requirements without any apparent justification, review, consultation or approval. Yes, this time we are talking about fire alarms AGAIN but that is not the only issue.
We have a steady stream of landlords asking for advice as they are perplexed by the PCC team requesting production of written testing logs showing weekly or monthly testing of fire alarms.
The 'rules' which PCC appear to rely upon are the LACORS guide, produced collectively by a number of local authorities way back in 2008. The guide is quite dated, having been written before the invention of wireless linked alarms, 10-year lithium batteries and the like – but generally, it is a good guide and is useful if you are thinking about how to make your properties safer.
The key thing to remember, is that it is a GUIDE – there is no law or statute that says it is right or should be followed or enforced. Also, for most HMO's what is needed is a 'Grade D' system comprising a number of interlinked smoke/heat detector alarms. The guidance for these in the LACORS guide was taken from the relevant British Standard at the time, for Grade D systems, it states: 'Routine Testing – these systems should be tested every month by use of the test button on the smoke alarm'. This presumably is what has driven PCC to decide to take this piece of guidance and attempt to enforce it in every case regardless of applicability.
It is a shame as the very next clause in the same document, adds the missing context as follows: "32.6 It is recognised that the above arrangements represent the ideal. While they may be possible in buildings with a resident landlord or a dedicated caretaker or housekeeper, in most situations for premises covered by this guide such arrangements may be impracticable. Where this proves to be the case tenants should be given clear instructions on how to test grade D or E alarms within their dwelling using the test button, along with clear recording and reporting instructions for any faults or false alarms on the system. Clear fault and false alarm reporting arrangements should be put in place, and the responsible person or his/her agent should respond to reports at the earliest opportunity."
Obviously it is simpler to make everyone produce a testing certificate than to consider the individual circumstances, but that is not justification to increase the costs and workload of the vast majority of good landlords for whom this is probably unnecessary or to unnecessarily disturb the tenants – in my experience, the average student house typically has someone asleep whenever I visit, for that reason I do not test the alarms on every trip but I do know they work and I do know the tenants know how to test them and also know that they need to let me know if there are any issues or malfunctions, however minor.
Firstly, if you do not have a current Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) for each property, get one. This will highlight any specific risks for that property taking account of who is living there – 3 doctors sharing a swanky Gunwharf flat are likely to need a very different treatment to 6 recovering addicts with a history of arson living in a cramped flat in a tenement block… Yet both are HMO's and PCC continues to treat all HMO's the same. The FRA will also recommend where alarms need to be, what type they need to be and also how and when they should be tested.
For most properties, you ought to be able to do your own FRA and for those that you can't, you will be able to identify those once you start on the process at which point you can call in professional help. We ran some 'do your own FRA' courses in 2019, let us know if you would like us to repeat them this year. The NRLA guide also has a great deal of useful information: https://www.nrla.org.uk/resources/looking-after-your-property/fire-safety-risk-assessment
Follow the recommendations in your FRA, fix any problems identified in your FRA and if PCC ask for monthly testing reports, our advice is that you send them your current FRA, outline why monthly testing does not take place, and ask them to confirm that monthly testing reports will not be required in your situation. If you have an agent managing your properties, make sure that they know you have delegated responsibility for management to them and as it is an HMO, they need to comply with all of the appropriate rules (and also the inappropriate ones until we can resolve this issue).
Written & oral information and advice from the Portsmouth & District Private Landlord's Association is given in good faith, but no responsibility whatsoever is accepted by the Association or it's officers for the accuracy of it's information & advice nor shall the Association be held responsible for the consequences of reliance upon such information.