The Fire Safety Act 2021 has been enacted in Wales since 1 October 2021 and will be followed by England in the near future.
So what are the key changes and how will this affect landlords?
What is the Fire Safety Act 2021?
The Fire Safety Act was passed to amend the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
The Fire Safety Order was originally designed to apply to workplaces, and this meant that how it applied to residential buildings has not always been entirely clear. At a minimum, it applies (and still does) to the “common parts”, areas for the use of all residents like hallways, staircases and landings.
New areas where it applies
However, the new legislation clarifies that where a building contains two or more sets of domestic premises, the areas to which the Fire Safety Order applies includes now:
- The building’s structure and external walls (including doors, windows and anything attached to the exterior of those walls, such as balconies, cladding, insulation and fixings) and any common parts. In addition to this, all doors between domestic premises and common parts such as flat entrance doors.
These now need to be added to any fire risk assessment undertaken by the landlord.
A ‘responsible person’ – normally the landlord
The act states that a ‘responsible person’ such as the landlord or managing agent must assess and mitigate the fire safety risk associated with both the structure and external walls of a building and entrance doors to individual flats and communal parts of the building. The fire risk assessment must be updated to cover both.
In addition to this, there are also these further changes:
- The act provides clarification as to who is accountable for reducing the risk of fires. This is now the responsible person. This means that the responsible persons may now be held personally responsible for breaches in fire safety and may be prosecuted. This differs from the 2005 Fire Safety Order as previously there needed to be evidence that there was a serious risk from the responsible person not adhering to the regulations.
- The Act also states that those in control of the property as the responsible person for fire safety, which gives them a duty to undertake a risk assessment and mitigate any risks found. The act requires this responsible person to reduce, assess and manage the fire risks posed due to the structure of the property.
- Allows the Fire Service to take enforcement action against responsible persons who fail to comply with the requirements of this Act. Fire and Rescue Authorities can issue enforcement notices if they decide that Responsible Persons have failed to comply with any provisions of the Fire Safety Order. They can also serve alteration or prohibition notices. The Fire Safety Act creates a number of offences, for example it is an offence for a Responsible Person or other Duty Holder to fail to comply with specific requirements imposed by the Fire Safety Order which puts people at risk of death or serious injury from fire. This is similar to the original Fire Safety Order regulations but gives these authorities greater abilities to act against breaches.
In addition to this, the ‘responsible person’ must now follow guidance and correctly fulfil their duties under the new Fire Safety Act. The responsible person refers to anyone who owns or manages the building, so in a private residential property, it is likely to be a managing agent or the landlord. The most fundamental changes are:
- Share information with their local Fire & rescue service in respect of the design of their buildings’ external walls and details of the materials of which they are constructed.
- Undertake an annual inspection of individual flat entrance doors.
- Undertake monthly inspections of lifts and report the results to their local Fire and Rescue Service if there are any faults
- Share evacuation and fire safety instructions with residents of the building
These changes will likely see landlords or a ‘responsible person’ to become more engaged and active in regards to fire safety. By having to create a more in detail fire risk assessment as well as being personally responsible for the exterior of the house. In addition, the increased enforcement powers by local authorities will help tackle more efficiently landlords who do not comply with the new safety act.
In addition, Landlords being responsible for the risks associated with the structure and external walls of the house seems like a very sensible move seeing as under section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985, the landlord is responsible for repairing and for the upkeep of these two parts of the property.
Guidelines to the act as currently in force in Wales can be found here.