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HMOs, hotels and boarding houses

This content applies to England & Wales

The legislation governing fire safety regulations in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), hostels, hotels, and boarding houses .

The HMO section provides full details of the regulations governing houses in multiple occupation: this section only covers the regulations specifically relating to fire safety.

Housing Act 2004

Larger houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), and some others, require licences under the Housing Act 2004. The licensing regulations provide some control over fire precautions because a local authority cannot issue a licence unless it is satisfied that appropriate fire precaution equipment and facilities are provided.[1] Whether an HMO is subject to licensing or not, the Housing Health and Safety Rating System and the powers under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 will apply.

Where a boarding house or hotel is of mixed use, the local authority can declare it an HMO. If it is subject to licensing as an HMO,[2] the local authority will have to be satisfied about the fire precautions in the property.

The page Housing Health and Safety Rating System (Fire safety) explains factors specific to fire safety that would be taken into account in an inspection under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. When a fire hazard is identified in an HMO, or in any common parts of buildings containing one or more flats, then the local authority must consult with the Fire and Rescue Authority before taking any of the enforcement actions available under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004. However, if the authority is taking emergency remedial action, or making an Emergency Prohibition Order, then the duty to consult is only 'so far as it is reasonably practicable to do so'.[3]

For licensed HMOs, it is a mandatory condition of the licences that the licence holder should have installed adequate smoke alarms in the house, and provide to the local authority, on demand, a declaration as to the condition and positioning of such alarms.[4]

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 came into force on 1 October 2006;[5] it repeals the whole of the Fire Precautions Act 1971. The Order applies to non-domestic premises, but some accommodation is included, ie:

  • sleeping accommodation for staff
  • sleeping, dining or other accommodation for guests/residents
  • common areas for residents.

In respect of HMOs, flats, and maisonettes, the regulations apply in addition to the provisions of the Housing Act 2004 (see above).

Responsibility for complying with the order will rest with the 'responsible person'. In a workplace, this is the employer and any other person who may have control of any part of the premises, eg the occupier or owner. In all other premises, the person or people in control of the premises will be responsible. There is also a general duty of employees in places of work to take reasonable responsibility for her/his own safety, and that of other relevant persons, in the workplace, and inform her/his employer of any risks.

Fire certification under the 1971 Act has been abolished, and replaced with a duty to carry out a fire risk assessment that must focus on the safety in case of fire of all 'relevant persons' (anyone lawfully on or near the premises). The assessment should be conducted by the 'responsible person', and should:

  • pay particular attention to those at special risk, such as disabled people and those with special needs
  • include consideration of any dangerous substance likely to be on the premises
  • ensure that there are adequate emergency routes and exits, and that these are kept clear at all times.

The assessment aims to help identify risks that can be removed or reduced, and to decide the nature and extent of the general fire precautions required to protect people against the fire risks that remain.

Enforcement

In most cases, responsibility for enforcement of the Order lies with the Fire and Rescue Authority for the area. There is a range of enforcement powers available to the enforcing authority, including:

  • alterations notices, requiring the responsible person to make changes to counteract risks
  • enforcement notices, requiring the responsible person to comply with any provision of the Order (eg to carry out a risk assessment), where they have not done so
  • prohibition notices, prohibiting use of the premises, where there is a serious risk.

It is an offence for any responsible person to fail to comply with her/his fire safety duties under the Order, where that failure places one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury in case of fire, or to fail to comply with any requirement imposed by an alterations notice or enforcement notice. It is also an offence for any person to fail to fail to comply with their general duty where that failure places one or more relevant persons at risk of death or serious injury, to take a variety of actions that will prevent persons from meeting duties or exercising powers under the Order, or to fail to comply with a prohibition notice.

On or after 6 April 2018, a local authority can apply to a First-tier Tribunal for a banning order where the landlord (or agent) has been convicted of failing to comply with her/his fire safety duties.[6]

Guidance

Guidance on the regulations as they apply to sleeping accommodation has been published by the Government. This addresses sleeping accommodation for staff, common areas for residents and sleeping, dining or other accommodation for guests/residents including:

  • guest houses, bed and breakfast accommodation, hotels, and motels
  • hostels, e.g. YMCA, YWCA, youth hostels, bail hostels or homeless persons' accommodation
  • refuges, e.g. family accommodation centres, halfway houses
  • the common areas of houses in multiple occupation
  • the common areas of flats and maisonettes
  • the common areas of sheltered accommodation where care is not provided (separate guidance is available for sheltered accommodation where care is provided)
  • student halls of residence and areas of sleeping accommodation in other training institutions
  • holiday chalets, holiday flat complexes, camping, caravan and holiday parks (other than privately owned individual units)
  • areas in work places where staff 'sleeping in' is a condition of the employment or a business requirement as in licensed premises or hotels.

It should be noted that the guide is not intended for domestic premises, hospitals, residential care, or nursing homes (CLG has published separate guidance on hospitals and care homes).

[1] reg 8 and Sch.4 of Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation and Other Houses (Miscellaneous Provisions) (England) Regulations 2006 SI 2006/373.

[2] s.255 Housing Act 2004.

[3] s.10 Housing Act 2004.

[4] Sch.4 Housing Act 2004.

[5] Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 SI 2005/ 1541, enforcement date amended Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Subordinate Provisions Order 2006 SI 2006/484 .

[6] reg 3 and Sch Housing and Planning Act 2016 (Banning Order Offences) Regulations 2018 SI 2018/216.

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