Any property that houses multiple unrelated tenants is at a higher risk of fire breaking out than a property rented by a single household. That’s mainly because room doors are more likely to be locked, which means tenants may not have a clear escape route. Also, when each tenant is living independently, you’ll usually have multiple electrical items switched on in every room, each of which could potentially be a fire hazard – especially when you as the landlord have no control over the quality or standard of these items.
As a result, the fire safety rules are much tighter for HMOs than for single lets. The exact rules will vary, depending on whether the HMO has to be licensed - either because it’s a ‘large HMO’ (5 or more occupants forming more than one household) or your Local Authority requires smaller HMOs (3 or more occupants) to be licensed - and your Local Authority may have their own fire safety requirements, over and above the national laws.
For single-let properties:
For additional information on fire safety in single lets in England and Wales, see here.
Additional regulations for HMOs usually include:
You need to take some expert advice. If you’re letting though an agent, they should be able to advise you, but if you’re letting and managing the property yourself, then there are two places to go.
First, speak to the housing department at your local council. They’ll be able to tell you what fire safety licensing conditions need to be met. Secondly, it’s advisable to have a Fire Safety Officer visit the property in person and advise you of both the legal requirements and best practice. They can also carry out a professional risk assessment for you. You should be able to find a local company online, or contact your local fire department and they can point you in the right direction.
Making sure your property meets fire safety standards before it’s rented out is one thing. However, once tenants are living there, you’ve got to take reasonable steps to make sure they aren’t doing anything to put themselves in danger, e.g. propping open fire doors and blocking escape routes with bikes or other belongings.
The benefit of being an HMO landlord is that, unlike in a single let, you have the right to enter communal areas, so making periodic checks shouldn’t be an issue for you – or for your agent. Here are some of the key things to check, ideally every 4-6 months:
And then the written risk assessment should be reviewed every couple of years.
Overall, the two most important things to consider are: have you complied with your legal obligations and are you satisfied that if anything went wrong, you could prove that you’d taken all reasonable steps to keep your tenants safe?
No matter how careful you are about fire safety, accidents and ‘Acts of God’ do occasionally happen, so it’s important to protect your investment with appropriate landlord insurance. And bear in mind that, because HMOs are considered high risk, you will need a specialist HMO product, which not every insurance provider offers.
To discuss getting the right cover for your HMO, call our partner Bode Insurance Solutions on 01903 890044 or you can get a quote online in just a few minutes.
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