Guidance on Fire Safety in Individual Purpose Built Flats

Introduction

This Guidance which is based on the Local Government Association's "Fire Safety in Purpose Built Flats" Guidance ("the LGA Guidance") focuses on the responsibilities of private rented sector landlords who rent out individual flats in purpose blocks of flats owned by others (and not where the landlord owns the whole block himself/herself). It also applies to converted blocks of flats so long as the conversion was carried out in accordance with the 1991 or later Building Regulations, and still complies with these regulations. In practice this means conversions which took place after 1st June 1992 where the plans for the conversion were approved after that date under the 1991 or later Building Regulations. If the flat is in a converted block of flats converted under the 1985 Building Regulations or earlier then you should instead refer to the LACORS Guidance document "Housing - Fire Safety - Guidance on Fire Safety Provisions for certain types of existing housing".

This Guidance is also only relevant for individual flats in these blocks where the flat is in single occupancy, i.e. it is not a flat in multiple occupation. For flats in multiple occupation you need to refer to the LACORS Guidance as the LGA Guidance specifically excludes flats in multiple occupation from its scope. Additional rules apply to flats in multiple occupation which are covered elsewhere in the RLA's Fire Safety Guidance.

In the case of individual flats in purpose built blocks (or post 1991 conversions) the guidance on landlords' responsibilities for fire safety is not presented in one place so we have pulled together various parts of the LGA Guidance to try to give an overall picture of the responsibilities of the landlord who rents out an individual flat in a block (where the landlord does not own the block), as well as linking these responsibilities with obligations under other relevant regulations.

Enforcement

Breaches of safety in individual flats can be enforced by Local Housing Authorities using their powers under the House Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). These include the service of improvement notices to require the carrying out of work.

In this way what is set out in guidance can be legally enforced.

Principles of fire safety for individual flats

The main objectives of the LGA Guidance setting out what should be done in the context of individual flats are:

  • The need to prevent fire breaking out in the first place.
  • Each flat should be within its own fire safety "box". Compartmentalisation of individual flats is intended to stop any fire that breaks out spreading outside the flat itself.
  • Each flat should have a working smoke alarm. Usually this need only be a single alarm in the circulation area within the flat. It does not need to be interlinked with any other system as it should be stand alone. Ideally, it should be a mains interlinked alarm with standby battery back up. In some cases battery operated alarms are acceptable so long as they are tamper proof and have at least 5 years batteries.
  • Each flat needs a front door which is a fire door with smoke seals and intumescent strips, together with a self closer.
  • It is important to make sure that if work is carried out (such as alterations) the integrity of the compartmentalisation is not compromised.
  • Gaps such as where pipes pass through perimeter walls of flats need to be fire stopped to maintain the integrity of the compartmentalisation.
  • Current building regulations mean that normally the internal hallway within the flat should be 30 minute fire resistant with fire doors to each room with smoke seals and intumescent strips (but not self closers).

In certain circumstances depending on the size and internal layout of the flat additional precautions will be need a more extensive fire alarm system.

Additional requirements will apply where travel distances to get to the front door to escape are too great or where there is a more complex layout, particularly if there is an internal room that can only be accessed through another room - see below on the section on means of escape within the flat.

Lease terms

In blocks of flats the terms of the lease will govern the respective responsibilities of the freeholder/management company which is responsible for/owner of the block as a whole and individual leaseholders owning individual flats. The landlord will normally own his or her individual flat under a lease. In turn the landlord will then rent out the flat to the occupiers. The landlord is responsible for ensuring that he/she observes their obligations under the terms of the lease. This can include, for example, obtaining consent under the terms of the lease to carryout any alterations. The landlord will also be responsible for keeping the flat in repair.

Blocks of flats are owned or controlled by a block owner or a management company. This can include a residents management company or a right to manage company. Alternatively, it may be the case that the freeholder is responsible for the block as a whole. The freeholder may be a private company or an individual, a local authority or a housing association, for example.

In the case of a block of flats the majority of responsibilities for fire safety rest with the block owner/management company. Usually a managing agent will be appointed to act on their behalf and will assume responsibility for day to day running of the block, including matters relating to fire safety.

In relation to front doors of flats these will usually be the responsibility of the flat owner/landlord but in some cases they may fall under the jurisdiction of the block owner. Even where they are the responsibility of the flat owner/the landlord work may have to be done in a particular way or may require the consent of the block owner. You need to check the terms of the particular lease.

Stay put policy

Many blocks of flats operate a "stay put" policy. Most blocks of flats are designed for this. The idea is that unless you are immediately affected by the fire (e.g. it has broken out in your own flat) you should remain in the flat and not leave the building. Information should be available from the block owner as to whether a stay put policy applies in a particular block.

Means of escape from the block

The route to safety in the event of fire relies on using the common parts which are the responsibility of the block owner. Normally there will be no communal fire alarm system. Emergency lighting should be available on the hall, stairs and landings to aid escape in the event of fire.

Fire prevention

Fire prevention within individual flats is important. Landlords should consider terms in tenancy agreements for example banning the use of naked flames such as candles. There may be requirements contained in the lease which need to be repeated in a tenancy agreement dealing with fire safety.

Fire doors

Front doors to flats need to be fire resistant and self closing. The required standard is FD30S, which provides 30 minute fire resistance with intumescent strips and smoke seals. Self closing installations are required; not rising butt hinges. It is important to ensure that the self closer is not taken off/disabled. It is a key element in the compartmentalisation of the flats separated from the remaining of the building. Letterboxes needing to be protected.

Front doors of flats will normally be the responsibility of the flat owner, i.e. the landlord; not the block owner. However, this depends on the terms of the lease - see above under lease terms.

Detailed guidance on fire resisting doors for individual flats and security locks and access systems is at Paragraphs 62.12 to 62.23 and Paragraph 68.1 to 68.7 of the LGA Guidance document.

Front doors of flats will normally be the responsibility of the flat owner, i.e. the landlord; not the block owner. However, this depends on the terms of the lease - see above under lease terms.

Means of Escape within the Flat

The travel distance from the furthest point of the flat to the flat front door is an important element. It should not exceed 9 metres although the LGA Guidance accepts that up to 12 metres can be acceptable for existing flats without additional measures being required. Cooking facilities should be located as far as possible away from the front door to the flat.

You need to ensure that within the flat itself means of escape are provided to enable occupants to vacate the flat as quickly as possible in the event of fire. The intention is that a fire anywhere within an individual flat should not prevent the occupiers from escaping unaided to the front entrance which provides the exit from the flat itself. Particular importance is attached where there is an inner room. This is a room from which escape is only possible by passing through another room. The LGA Guidance document provides further information as regards means of escape within the flat. This includes the situation where there is an inner room.

This Guidance suggests mitigating measures for different situations if the benchmarks set out in the current Building Regulations cannot be attained. For example if the travel distance is excessive compensatory measures might include increased levels of detection within the flat. The layout of flats varies considerably and you should take appropriate professional advice if there is a shortfall in meeting recommendations in your flat.

For building regulation purposes current Approved Document B2 2006 Edition sets out guidance on when fire doors should be fitted internally within flats. This will apply when a new flat is built or an existing building is converted into flats. For existing flats, a comparison needs to be made with these standards. The reality however is that to meet building regulation requirements, for various reasons, you need to go beyond the strict letter of the current Approved Document B. This provides general guidance but additional measures are needed to be put in place in some cases and this is one of them, Otherwise additional works may be needed to meet the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

Guidance for the interior of flats (including advice from the British Woodworking Federation) is as follows:

  1. Flats that are located on the ground floor do not need fire doors if the habitable rooms have a means of escape.

    This means of escape must be directly from each room to the outside and can be either through a door or a Building Regulation compliant escape window OR

    All habitable rooms directly access a hall leading to the entrance.

  2. Flats that are located on an upper floor that is below 4.5 m do not need fire doors if the habitable rooms have a means of escape through a door or a Building Regulations compliant escape window.

  3. Flats that are located on an upper floor that is above 4.5m will need fire doors between the habitable rooms and the hall leading to the entrance.

    Alternative design layout options are available that would reduce the need for fire doors at these levels, for example open plan arrangements may not need fire doors.

  4. For blocks of flats of maximum four storeys with a top floor not more than 11m above the ground with a single stair, fire doors can be omitted from the internal layouts of each flat provided that the external lobby is separated from the stair well by another fire door.

  5. The internal hallway within the flat will need to be a 30 minute resistant protected route, although there may be alternative approaches available under current building regulations, including protective lobby or alternative access.

None of the fire doors within the flats will need door closers - but see below where they are already fitted. In any case rising butt hinges should not be used.

Under Building Regulations all internal doors are classified as FD20. In reality suppliers do not supply FD20 doors and therefore FD30S should be used with smoke seals and intumescent strips.

Most flat units are of three or four storeys and will therefore require fire doors within the second and third floor flats. It is usual for builders to use the same doors throughout the other lower areas to avoid the incorrect fitting of non fire doors on the upper floors. This is the best course of action as this will ensure that you do not face action under the Housing Health and Safety Rating system.

The previous Building Regulation Approved Document B 2000 Edition required internal fire doors to be self closing. This requirement will continue and self-closing devices should still be provided on internal domestic fire doors in any refurbishment. The question then arises as to what should happen if the self closer is no longer working. The LGA recommendation is that you do not need to replace self closers except for those on the kitchen and lounge doors if you have to pass by these rooms to get out of the flat from the bedrooms. However, to strictly comply with the Building Regulation Approved Document B 2000 Edition closers should be replaced.

Fire detection/alarm systems

In all flats early warning of a fire should be provided by means of smoke alarms within the flat. These will not normally be linked to a communal system and are independent of any such system if it exists at all. A Category LD3 interlinked system with battery back up should be provided. This is a system where there is one or more smoke alarms solely in the circulation spaces of the flat, e.g. the hall. Additional more extensive coverage with smoke alarms (and heat alarms in certain rooms, such as kitchens) may be appropriate as an additional compensatory measure should the means of escape within the flat itself be insufficient - see previous section.

Importantly, it is also a requirement in England under Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Regulations for any privately rented flat to have a smoke alarm installed. This must be checked on the day a new tenancy starts to ensure that it is working. However, in line with the LGA guidance the requirements for the provision of alarm systems may go beyond the basic requirement of the regulations if means of escape within the flat itself is unsatisfactory.

If the flat was constructed prior to 1992 the smoke alarms may be battery operated but they should only be battery operated if the battery has an anticipated life in normal service of at least five years. The battery must be "tamper proof". It is highly advisable to take out battery operated smoke alarms (and any mains operated smoke alarms that do not have battery standby supply) and replace them with mains operated standard supply. If more than one alarm is provided in this way they should be interlinked. Further details requiring fire detection alarm systems are set out in the LGA Guidance at Paragraph 66 and also in Appendix 6.

Usually leases do not make specific provision around fire alarms within the flats; this is seen as the responsibility of flat owners. However, leases normally contain a standard provision obliging the flat owner to comply with statutory requirements which, in England, include the need for a smoke alarm where the property is rented out. Again, you need to check your lease to see if there are any specific requirements.

Integrity of the Compartmentalisation

Compartmentalisation of individual flats within blocks is at the heart of fire safety in blocks of flats. The idea is that if fire breaks out within an individual flat it should be contained within that flat. This is why fire doors are required for front doors. Likewise, it is important to ensure that the integrity of the perimeter of the flat is maintained. Importantly, this involves fire stopping any gaps e.g. where pipes or ducts pass through the perimeter walls of the flat.

Fire stopping need not normally be needed where the diameter of any piping is no more than 40mm. Ducting may have a shunt duct to impede the spread of fire or alternatively an intumescent fire damper may need to be fitted.

It is also particularly important to ensure that if work is carried out which involves penetrating the outer perimeter of the flat (including the outside wall) any gaps created are properly fire stopped.

This issue is examined in the LGA Guidance in Paragraphs 54.2 to 54.15.

Ventilation/extract ducting

This can be a particular issue in blocks of flats. Often ventilation/ducting is provided for ventilation of kitchens and/or bathrooms. A communal system may be provided. The division of responsibility for the upkeep of such systems may not be clear. Some elements of the system may be communal and there then may be offshoots which are subject to a requirement of individual maintenance by the flat owner concerned. Experience shows that ducting/ventilation may well speed up the spread of fire.

Electrical Installations and Appliances

The landlord will be responsible for the electrical installations (wiring plugs sockets etc) in the flat. The landlord must maintain these in good repair and proper working order. This will be an implied term of any tenancy. The landlord should ensure that a periodic electrical inspection is carried out by qualified a electricians. This should be carried out at no more than 10 yearly intervals. However, it must be carried out at 5 yearly intervals if the flat is a flat in multiple occupation. The recommendation is that this should be carried out normally at 5 yearly intervals unless long term tenancies are in place.

It is important for the landlord to carry out a thorough visual inspection periodically and on any change over of tenancy to ensure that the electrical installation is in good condition. You should visually inspect plugs, socket etc., to see if there is any evidence of damage or malfunction, e.g. signs of burning.

Any electrical appliances provided by the landlord must be provided in safer working order at the outset of the tenancy. Landlords should also ensure that any such appliances remain in proper repair and good working order. The RLA publish separate guidance based on guidance given by the Health and Safety Executive.

Tenants are responsible for the safety of any appliances which they introduce themselves.

Furniture and furnishings

Any furniture or furnishings provided by the landlord must be fire resistant. Guidance by the RLA is provided on fire safety on all furniture and furnishings.

Advice to residents

Landlords should give tenants and residents advice in relation to fire safety including whether a stay put policy applies. Notices should be displayed within the common parts of the block alerting occupiers as to what should be done in the event of a fire - fire action notices. Further information about engaging with residents is given in Paragraph 77 of the LGA Guidance.

Testing

Smoke alarms (or any heat alarms) should be tested regularly and the landlord should carry out a periodic check of any alarms. Further guidance on this is published by the RLA in the Carbon Monoxide Requirements.

It is usually the responsibility of residents to carry out more frequent periodic tests of their smoke alarms. Tenants need to be told what to do. Landlords should, however, use opportunities that arise to check on the condition of smoke alarms which they have provided. Anyone needing to visit a flat can easily check that the tenant has not interfered with the smoke alarm or otherwise disabled it. This is a common problem.

If gas is installed then the landlord is responsible for carrying out an annual safety check of any gas appliances (such as boilers) specifically serving the flat. The landlord is also responsible for the safety of the installation pipework within the boundaries of the flat itself.

Examples of different situations in blocks of flats

The LGA Guidance gives examples of various scenarios relating to blocks of flats/individual flats. These can also be consulted. They are in Appendices 7 to 13 of the LGA Guidance.

IMPORTANT

The advice contained in this Guidance is based on the LGA Guidance document. This Guidance isolates out the sections that are primarily relevant to individual flats but the LGA guidance needs to be read and considered as a whole. The Guidance will not fit each and every case. You should always consider taking appropriate professional advice to deal with the particular circumstances of your individual flat.

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