All HMOs are subject to legislation about how they are managed which is contained in the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006. These place certain duties on the individuals managing the property, including to ensure that all fire escapes are clear of any obstacles and that they are kept in good order, to ensure that all fire safety measures are maintained in good working order and that adequate fire safety measures are in place with regards to the design, structural conditions, and number of occupiers in the HMO.

Within this housing act the landlord should also be aware of the housing health and safety rating system (HHSRS), which applies in the property. This is a risk-based evaluation tool to help local authorities identify and protect against potential risks and hazards to health and safety from any deficiencies identified in dwellings. The HHSRS assesses 29 categories of housing hazard. Each hazard has a weighting which will help determine whether the property is rated as having category 1 (serious) or category 2 (other).

UK City Councils inspect HMO’s under this rating scheme, and will consider action to be taken if housing conditions score highly against this assessment. During an assessment of your HMO, a local authority officer will make judgements by reference to those who, mostly based on age, would be most vulnerable to the hazard, even if people in these age groups may not actually be living in the property at the time. Meaning that even a vacant dwelling can be assessed and that if the dwelling is rated as safe for those considered to be most vulnerable it will be safe for anyone.

Alongside the Housing Act 2004, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) introduced duties in relation to fire safety in the common areas of HMOs.

Article 4 section of the Fire Safety Order (under Meaning of “general fire precautions”) needs to be met. It relates to reducing the risk/spread of fire in the premises. Under the new regime, responsibility for ensuring fire safety will rest with the person responsible for the premises.

The Fire Safety Order places a legal obligation to carry out a risk assessment in the common parts of HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) and buildings comprising self-contained flats, and to provide any fire safety measures that the risk assessment shows to be necessary. Common parts include shared kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms and stairways. In practice this requires a risk assessment of the entire building, not just common parts, because fire safety measures for common and private parts of HMOs and buildings comprising flats are designed as a whole integrated ‘package’. For example an integrated hard wired smoke alarm system will need to travel through to individual bedrooms as well as communal areas.

The ‘Responsible person’ means “the person who has control of the premises in connection with the carrying on of a trade, business or other undertaking”. In practice this will usually be the landlord, but in the case of absentee landlords where the “carrying on of the business” is undertaken by a managing agent it may be the managing agent.

Under the FSO Order 2005, you must carry out a Fire Risk Assessment and take action to minimise the risk of fire. This needs to be performed professionally. It’s worth noting that ‘competency’ to carry out a fire risk assessment may have to proven to an enforcement officer. The person (s) carrying out an assessment must be competent to do so. In terms of Law a competent person is to be regarded as someone with sufficient training, experience and knowledge of fire safety. This is enforced by the Fire and Rescue Authority.

Under these provisions, if you do not have the qualifications to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment, and cannot prove competency, then you must take reasonable steps to ensure your tenants are not injured because of the property’s structure or condition. A ‘reasonable step’ may be to contact a professional to conduct a health and fire safety inspection of the property, perform any work that is suggested, and keep a record of all of this.

If a managing agent or landlord does not comply with the regulations, then the law is clear – a criminal offence is being committed. Ignorance is not a defence.

Failure to comply with HMO management regulations and statutory notices can result in enforcement action being taken against landlords and managing agents. See recent court cases section