Fire Risk Assessments in Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO)

A House in Multiple Occupation or HMO is a building that is occupied by more than 3 people as a main residence and who form more than one single household and share facilities like a bathroom or kitchen.

A House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) needs a MANDATORY license when:

  • It is rented to 5 or more people who form more than 1 household
  • Tenants share some amenities like toilet, bathroom, or kitchen facilities
HMO sign

Fire safety advice for landlords

Anyone who lets a property to others is under a general duty in law to provide accommodation that is fit for the purpose and safe. However, there is a body of legislation that relates specifically to fire safety in HMOs.

  • The Housing Act 2004 contains the powers which enable Councils to take action where a range of housing hazards, including the risk of fire, occur. The Act also lays down the licensing requirements for larger HMOs. It also enables Councils to take control of HMOs where they seriously threaten the health, safety, and well-being of occupiers or people in the locality.
  • The Management of HMO Regulations 2006 places duties on the manager of an HMO to keep the fabric, fixtures, and fittings in good order, ensure that occupiers are protected from injury, and supply and maintain gas, electricity, and other services.
  • The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005) requires any person with some level of control over HMO (‘Responsible Person’) to – take reasonable steps to reduce risk from fire – Make sure anyone in the property can safely escape if a fire occurs. The ‘Responsible Person’ can pass the task to some other competent person (although the ‘Responsible Person’ retains the duty to meet its requirements).

The first step in meeting the legislative requirements is to carry out a fire risk assessment. This will identify the potential fire risks in the HMO and form the basis for action to improve fire safety.

New regulations came into force in 2018 to bring mandatory licensing to all multi-occupied properties where there are five or more people, forming two or more separate households

The 'three-storey rule' has been removed

The requirement for it to cover three or more stories of a property has now been removed and it is estimated that this change will mean that some 177,000 rental properties will now be classed as HMOs

The main changes are:

Altered definition of an HMO under the Housing Act 2004: for licensing purposes, from 1st October 2018, an HMO will be any property occupied by five or more people, forming two or more separate households.

This contrasts with the existing HMO definition which is a property occupied by 5 or more people, forming two or more separate households and comprising three or more storeys.

Couple getting keys
  • If you already have an HMO license under the current definition, this will continue to be valid until the license expiration date (usually 5 years from the date of issue). After the expiration, you will need to apply for a new license as usual.
  • If you currently let an HMO that didn’t previously require licensing but will do after the new order comes into effect 1 October 2018, then you will need to apply for a license through the local council.
  • There is an important exception: if the property is in a purpose-built block of flats comprising 3 or more units.
Letting a licensable HMO without a license

Letting a licensable HMO without a license when the law requires it could land the owner, agent, or landlord with criminal prosecution and record, an unlimited fine, and an order to pay court costs and a victim surcharge.

Alternatively, the council could issue a civil penalty of up to £30,000 and a rent repayment order of up to 12 months’ rental income to the council, tenants, or former tenants.

If you are the person responsible for completing the fire risk assessment and decide you are unable to apply the guidance or complete the risk assessment, you should seek expert advice.

In breach of a license condition

Landlords will have to stop letting rooms that fall below the nationally prescribed standard. If they do not, then they will be in breach of license condition and could be prosecuted by the local authority or receive a civil penalty under the new Housing and Planning Act 2016 provisions.

So, when applying for an HMO license, we can undertake a fire risk assessment which would assist in complying with the requirements of both the Housing Act 2004, and supporting Housing, Health and Safety Rating System, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The Fire Risk Assessment should be completed in conjunction with the LACORS document ‘Housing – Fire Safety Guidance on fire safety provisions for certain types of existing housing


Most Frequently Asked Questions

Fire safety within the home is an extremely important issue, especially in mixed-use premises and where unrelated occupiers, who live independently from one another, share common areas of the same building. This area of law is covered by the Housing Act 2004 and the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015 inside the dwelling and for the common areas, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005).

The legislation creates a legal entity known as the ‘responsible person’. So, if you are the owner, manager, agent or even own a flat within a block ‘you will need to check’ if YOU are the ‘responsible person’.

It has to be understood that the ‘responsible person’ has an absolute duty to comply with legislation.

Legislation requires that landlords carry out fire risk assessments in all common areas of properties. The objective is to identify and evaluate all fire risks to which ‘relevant people’ are exposed and decide if anything can be done to minimise or remove that risk in due course creating a ‘suitable and sufficient’ fire risk assessment. Whilst the legislation does not define suitable and sufficient it is generally considered that a risk assessment should follow the five-step approach.

Relevant people are those who are legally allowed on the premises, e.g. staff, visitors, residents, contractors, etc.

The overall aim of a fire risk assessment is to reduce the likelihood of fire, limit the spread of fire, and ensure that people know about fire and can escape. A fire risk assessment should systematically identify all fire-related hazards within the premises and evaluate how those hazards may adversely affect the building and its occupants. It should identify the level of risk that those hazards may present and also identify suitable control measures for any significant findings. It is often best done by a fire safety professional, particularly if you have HMO properties or a large portfolio.

Legislation requires that landlords carry out fire risk assessments in all areas of their properties. This process will identify any fire hazards and who is at risk and decide if anything needs to be done to remove or reduce that risk.

When renting a property for its business, a tenant must carry out a health and safety risk assessment in the workplace and take action to remove any hazards. 

The landlord is responsible for any aspects of health and safety relating to communal areas defined in the lease.

Landlords should ensure that front doors of flats and communal areas (like corridors and staircases) have self-closing fire doors installed and it’s advised that fire doors are also fitted to high-risk rooms, such as the kitchen. These are designed to stop the spread of fires and should not be held open. Landlords should also ensure that fire exits and escape routes in their buildings are not blocked and that everyone in the building knows the evacuation plan in case there is a fire (this includes tenants and staff members).

In a single household property, landlords are not required to provide fire extinguishers or fire blankets. However, landlords of HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupancy), are required to provide fire blankets in all kitchen areas and at least one fire extinguisher for each storey of the property.

Landlord and tenant fire safety responsibilities:
The landlord or managing agent must ensure fire regulations are complied with on common staircases. The landlord is responsible for maintaining and checking shared fire safety equipment, such as a fire alarm system covering the whole building but the tenant bears some responsibility for ensuring that they stay in good working order. Tenants cannot remove the smoke detectors and must ensure that batteries are regularly replaced.

Yes, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

In general, the landlord must follow safety regulations; provide at least one approved smoke alarm on each storey and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a solid fuel-burning appliance (for example a coal fire or wood-burning stove) and provide written information about how to test and maintain them. Test all carbon monoxide and smoke detectors at least once a month.

No, there is no legal obligation (at the moment) for private landlords to carry out PAT on electrical appliances in their properties. However, the regulations are different for HMO landlords. In their case, annual PAT tests are compulsory for all electrical appliances.

The fire safety regulations for rented properties are laid out in various Acts and the requirements can vary from one country to another. Below are the key laws that you should be aware of and must follow as a landlord.

The Housing Act 2004, including the Housing Health & Safety Rating System (HHSRS)
Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988/1989, 1993 and 2010
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (2005)
The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015
Building Regulations

Finally, if you have a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), even if it’s unlicensed, you will need to also follow additional, more specific fire safety rules and regulations. These include providing fire extinguishers and fire blankets. The precise requirements can vary from one local authority to another, so it’s best to check what they are with your local council housing department.