A combination of high property prices and stagnant wages have led to a boom in rental properties and the rise of buy-to-let landlords. In an attempt to boost income, many landlords have chosen to turn their properties into HMOs, or house in multiple occupation. In essence, this is when a property is let to more than one ‘household’, meaning that the people inside do not know each other. This might be three, four or even five different tenants.
As a result, running a HMO comes with an added set of responsibilities and financial outlay. One of those responsibilities is to create a safe environment—and preventing fires at your HMO is exceptionally important.
Unfortunately, these regulations are required for a reason, as detailed by Bedford Borough Council:
“You are six times more likely to die in a fire if you live in any house in multiple occupation (HMO), compared with a single family house. The risk increases to sixteen times more at risk of fatal injury if you live in an HMO which is 3 or more storeys high.”
Different council authorities have different requirements for HMOs. In several regions, the installation of so-called ‘fire doors’ is mandatory. These doors are thicker than usual, made from fire resistant materials, and swing closed automatically. They’re designed to prevent or slow down the spread of a fire, block the passage of smoke and give residents more time to escape the property. There are four broad categories of fire door according to the British Woodworking Federation, a difference based on how long they can resist a fire. A fire door might hold a blaze back for 30, 60, 90, or 120 minutes.
Landlords running a HMO are legally required to install carbon monoxide detectors and fire alarms on every storey of a property, as well as in any room with a stove that burns solid fuel (like wood burners). However, these fire alarms are often required to be mains wired, and cannot be turned off by tenants (or in the case of regular fire alarms, by taking out the batteries). There have been a great many advances in fire alarm technology, and it’s now possible to choose options like remote monitoring and wireless control as part of your system, as well as an aesthetically pleasing system that complements your property’s interior.
Once installed, you should have your fire alarm system tested twice a year by a qualified professional to ensure the highest standards of safety are maintained.
All tenants will need to be able to access an escape route out of the building. This is easier to achieve in the case of ground floor tenants, but you may need to make changes to accommodate those on higher floors. A fire escape mounted on the outside of the building may be the answer for many properties, and indeed many are built with these as standard.
Your escape routes cannot go through kitchens and other similarly high risk areas, since it is likely that any fire would begin in this location.