Rural let property fires: Risks, rules and prevention tips

More heating and lighting is used in the winter months, so the risk of fire is higher.

While there is concern over the risks Strutt, & Parker’s health and safety specialist Robert Gazely said there was a lack of clarity around fire regulations that often left property owners confused.

The legislation on fire safety precautions for landlords differs depending on the type of property and the type of occupation.

See also: Video: Farmer shares lessons learned fighting huge crop fire

Mr Gazely sets out five key areas that property owners who let housing, holiday homes or commercial workspaces in England, needed to consider.

Tips for landlords to limit fire risks

  • Use a professional chimney sweep at least twice a year
  • Have the chimney linings in your properties inspected regularly and renewed when needed
  • Ensure only seasoned hardwood or materials that meet manufacturer specifications are burned
  • Fit a bird guard to deter birds from building nests in the chimney
  • Have the electrical system checked regularly
  • Consult the local fire safety officer for advice

1. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

The order covers all residential property for paying guests, such as holiday lets, and commercial and agricultural buildings. The “responsible person” must conduct a fire risk assessment that is an organised and methodical review of activities in the premises to establish the likelihood of a fire starting and causing harm.

The assessment must:

  • Identify fire hazards
  • Reduce the risk of the hazards causing harm to as low as reasonably practicable
  • Determine what precautions and management arrangements are necessary to safeguard people, assets and the premises if a fire starts.  

2. The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (England) Regulations (HHSRS) 2005

These rules cover all let domestic property occupied by a single household, including any tied accommodation for workers on a farm or estate.

The HHSRS is a risk assessment tool used by local authorities to minimise potential hazards in residential properties, including those privately let. 

Property with gas appliances must be inspected by a Gas Safe registered engineer every 12 months and electrical installation safety checks should be carried out periodically.

Landlords are not required to conduct a formal fire risk assessment for let domestic property in the same way as they are for holiday lets.

However, HHSRS means they do have a responsibility to consider potential hazards and any ways to reduce the risks.

Practical measures to reduce risks include:

  • Ensuring there are adequate means of escape
  • Siting appliances such as cookers away from flammable materials
  • Providing enough appropriately sited electric sockets to avoid trailing wires and system overloads.  

3. The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Regulations 2015

This legislation requires all private landlords in England to have at least one smoke alarm on every storey of the premises, and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room containing a solid fuel-burning appliance.

The landlord is required to check the operation of the smoke alarm at the start of the tenancy.

If additional fire prevention measures are included in homes, such as fire blankets and fire extinguishers, then it remains the landlord’s obligation to maintain the equipment. 

4. The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) Safety Regulations 1988 

Rules on furniture and furnishings mean any furniture included in a let property must carry a label showing it complies with the legal standards for fire resistance, unless it was made before 1950. 

5. Building Regulations 2010 Part B

Landlords with houses that have been renovated or extended will need to consider whether the changes meet the requirements within this section of building regulations.

Property owners may be required to install hard-wired smoke and heat detectors, a water sprinkler system and provide fire extinguishers, depending on the view of the local authority.  

Rural house fires, key causes and prevention tips

Fires in rural homes lead to claims of more than £20m/year, according to insurer NFU Mutual.

Its rural affairs specialist, Tim Price, said electrical faults and fireplaces (sparks and woodburners) caused both the greatest number of fires and the most serious. 

Top five causes of fires in rural properties:

  1. Fireplaces (sparks, poor maintenance and operation)
  2. Electrical faults
  3. Cookers
  4. Spread (from another blaze)
  5. Arson

“The statistics show the importance of correctly installing and maintaining open fires, wood burners and electrical equipment in homes which are let,” he said.

The increased use of woodburners was a particular issue, Mr Price warned. Woodburners create more sparks than coal and produce combustible tar deposits.

This combination, particularly in thatched properties, is often to blame for fire, he said.