A man has recently been found guilty of a number of offences after a fire broke out at one of his properties killing two of his tenants.
The five bedroom house, in the E17 area of London, was acting as a house in multiple occupation (HMO) when the fire broke out in July 2011. Four fire engines and 20 firefighters attended the scene where, despite their best efforts, they were unable to save two of the house’s occupants.
Following further investigation it became apparent that a number of safety failings were responsible for the tragic deaths of the two men, leading to charges made against the owner who has received a 6 month suspended prison sentence and a fine of £22,684 for his negligence.
After London Fire Brigade Inspectors visited the house the day after the fire they found that:
- No fire detection system was installed.
- No firefighting equipment was available.
- No fire doors were installed.
- No fire risk assessment had been completed.
On top of this the only escape route from the building was via the front door which required a key to be opened.
Due to these safety failures it is reported that one of the persons killed in the fire was seemingly unaware that he was in any danger, while the other was unable to escape despite a spirited effort to do so.
Who is responsible?
When operating houses in multiple occupancy it is the legal obligation of the Responsible Person (in this case the landlord) to protect tenants from fire and sadly, in this circumstance, the Landlord neglected his duty. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) places a duty on the responsible person to carry out a fire safety risk assessment and take the appropriate action to minimise risk of fire.
These actions, outlined in The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, include; ensuring that fire safety equipment is accessible, ensuring suitable fire detection is present and making sure that routes to emergency exits and the exits themselves are kept clear at all times.
According to the report from London Fire Brigade Inspectors none of duties expected from the Landlord had been fulfilled.
How can future incidents be prevented?
The Responsible Person (RP) has a number of legal obligations to adhere to when protecting tenants in HMOs from fire. Adhering to these guidelines can prevent prosecution, and more importantly, save lives.
First and foremost it is imperative to ensure that a fire risk assessment has been carried out. This will allow the RP to identify fire hazards, identify the people that are at risk (residents, workers, visitors etc.) and evaluate, remove or reduce the risk of fire.
In almost all cases an HMO will necessitate a suitable fire alarm system designed to provide reliable and constant means of detecting smoke or fire at the earliest possible stage and sound an audible alarm to warn occupants of fire, allowing them suitable time to escape before the fire develops.
More information on fire safety provisions for HMOs can be found in LACORS Housing Fire Safety guide. It goes without saying that following these guidelines and ensuring that tenants are safe from fire should be a number one priority for any Landlord.
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