Monday, 15 July 2013

Getting on Like a House on Fire

Although it may well be a rite of passage to go through the experience of living in sub-human accommodation at university, there’s a line to be drawn between a landlord that is avoiding the painting the living room’s peeling walls, and not taking due consideration for the safety of their tenants. The majority of fire-related deaths in the UK occur in rented accommodation and within these incidents, the majority of the houses in question were either missing smoke alarms, or the alarms were not functional.

The obligations of the landlord are detailed in two documents: The Housing Act 2004 and The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) and here are the key takeaways from these that you can practically apply to your house-hunting to ensure that you move into a home that’s safe:
  • Fire alarms and testing: When you are looking around, check to see if they have fire alarms fitted. If they do, ask the person showing you around to test them. If alarms are missing or faulty then stay well clear. After finding a place to live, check the fire alarms regularly. Even if it’s written in the contract that the landlord should do it, it’s better to be safe than sorry! 
  • Fire extinguishers and blankets: This is mandatory in most properties and a good landlord will provide them anyway, especially in the kitchen. 
  • Fire proof furnishings: It is a legal requirement that all furnishings fireproof, and this is especially important if the rooms are quite small and the furniture takes up a lot of floor space. Ask to see the risk assessment document. 
  • Emergency lighting: If the escape route out of the house is pitch black at night there should be emergency lighting fitted. This is harder to spot when you’re viewing houses, but if after moving in you feel that the fire escape routes are hazardous in the dark, request that emergency lighting be fitted. 
  • Gas appliances: The landlord must ensure an annual inspection is done on all gas appliances and you should ask to see the assessment certificate for both the boiler and the oven. The boiler is even more important as this can be a carbon monoxide risk. 
  • Plugs and sockets: All electrical equipment provided within the property is ‘safe’. Take a look at plug sockets to make sure they aren’t loose or cracked. There should also be no exposed wiring anywhere. If the electrics in the property seem neglected or potentially dangerous, stay away. 

Above and beyond this, you should plan a fire escape route, better yet, plan several. The hotspots for a fire to start in the living room and kitchen, so your primary route of escape passes through either of these rooms, plan an alternative as well, even if it would mean having to break a window to escape.

Never tempt fate and do everything you can to minimise the risk of fire. Although they may look and smell nice, candles really are a no-no. When you’re a student, your mind is consistently on other things, whether it be an impending deadline or an impending night out. If a housemate were to pop their head round the door and invite down you to the pub, do you think you would remember to blow the candles out every single time? It really isn’t worth the risk. If you have hair curlers or straighteners, double check you’ve turned them off, and if you live with someone and you know they have them, check that theirs are switched off before you leave the house. Just try to be as sensible and forward-thinking as you possibly can.

Some landlords will provide them in rented accommodation but if not, consider a fireproof safe for essential items. It’s worth considering what documents or items you can’t afford to lose in a fire. As well as this, if you’re burgled, it offers an almost burgle-proof location for your valuables.

Finally, always regularly check your smoke alarms! Although it might not be your responsibility to, it is in your interest; after all, it’s your life! If you find that a battery operated alarm isn’t working: replace the battery. If it is mains powered, report it straight away to your landlord. If the fire alarms are linked to a burglary alarm system that all connect to a central unit (that you will usually find in the entrance hallway), make sure everyone in the house is shown how to use it by the land lord or letting agent. From the unit’s interface you’ll be able to test the alarm system, switch it on and off, set the burglar alarm and so on. It’s important to know how to properly reset the system because if the alarm goes off when someone burns their toast, it’s important not to just switch the whole thing off but properly reset the system ready to keep you safe again!


  1. This is a really interesting post, I've always wondered what landlords are legally obliged to do in their properties. I know so many people with disgusting amounts of mould in their houses but there seems to be no law against that!


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