Key fire safety changes for residential landlords

The Hackitt Review, set up in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, concluded that existing fire safety regulations were unclear. New regulations aimed to provide some clarity for residents and landlords offer a good general guide to what insurers are looking for from residential property owners. Some of the key takeaways from the new legislation include:

  • Residential buildings must have an operational fire alarm on every floor;

  • All enclosed areas should be fitted with fire doors;

  • All residential areas should be reviewed regularly to identify any compartment breaches requiring fire stopping;

  • Any flats, corridors and escape rooms also require appropriate fire stopping;

  • Landlords must arrange appropriate risk assessments and understand the smoke ventilation requirements applicable to their buildings.

The Housing Act 2004 also requires that all escape areas are accessible, fire hazard areas such as boiler rooms are clear of non-essential materials, and all appliances comply with British/European safety mark standards and are tested annually. Breaching these requirements can result in financial penalties from local authorities. It can also have implications from an insurance perspective. Insurers will want regular confirmation that landlords are doing what the legislation requires of them. They will also be looking out keenly for any evidence of non-compliance during any building surveys, with the removal of any combustible materials their number-one concern. Insurers are acting much faster now to reduce cover or increase deductibles when building owners fail to meet post-survey requirements within a specified timeframe.

Building regulations in England and Wales have also been amended to restrict the use of combustible materials in the external walls of certain types of building that exceed 18m or six storeys in height. When reviewing higher-rise blocks (whether they are over 18m or not), insurers will often require confirmation of:

  • Building materials including frame, walls, floors and ceilings;

  • Insulation products and other materials in any external walls and roofs (ideally in the form of a product sheet confirming that these have been constructed as-designed);

  • Materials used in the decoration and finishing of any external areas and balconies;

  • Fire-protection enhancements such as sprinkler or misting systems;

  • Any known compartmentation or fire-stopping issues, particularly in cavity spaces.

Where combustible materials are discovered, it is not uncommon for insurers to require that the local fire office attend site and that any recommendations they make to be put in place until such materials can removed or made safe. In some cases, they may also require a 24/7 fire watch, increased fire-prevention equipment on site, and restrictions on BBQs and other hazardous activities. These requirements may be accompanied by an increased deductible and/or premium rate.

For more information, please contact Alex Heaney directly, alternatively, you can visit our Real Estate Practice page here.