Landlords and managing agents of houses in multiple occupation (HMO) could face unlimited fines under new measures to be included in the Building Safety Bill, likely to come into force in 2022.
As part of the reforms resulting from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the measures will amend the Fire Safety Order to:
- improve the quality of fire risk assessments and competence of those who complete them;
- ensure vital fire safety information is preserved over the lifespan of all regulated buildings;
- improve cooperation and coordination amongst people responsible for fire safety and making it easier to identify who they are;
- strengthen enforcement action, with anyone impersonating or obstructing a fire inspector facing unlimited fines;
- strengthen guidance issued under the Fire Safety Order so that failure to follow it may be considered in court proceedings as evidence of a breach of compliance;
- improve the engagement between Building Control Bodies and Fire Authorities in reviewing plans for building work;
- require all new flats above 11 metres tall to install premises information boxes.
The unlimited fines relate to the offence of obstructing or impersonating fire inspectors.
The measures form part of the Government’s response to the Fire Safety Consultation that ran from July to October 2020.
What Is the Fire Safety Consultation (the Consultation)?
The British Government is determined that the fire which consumed Grenfell Tower and cost 72 people their lives never happens again. This will be achieved by reforming building and fire safety laws.
The Consultation paper proposed to:
- “strengthen the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and improve compliance
- implement the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report recommendations that require a change in law to place new requirements on building owners or managers of multi-occupied residential buildings, mostly high-rise buildings
- strengthen the regulatory framework for how building control bodies consult with Fire and Rescue Authorities on planning for building work and the handover of fire safety information”.
The Government’s response to the Consultation stated that in general, its proposals for improvement received a positive response, especially in relation to strengthening the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (FSO) and improving overall regulatory compliance. The response document also stated that a:
“….recurring theme throughout many of the responses was the need to consider other risk factors in addition to a building’s height in order to determine the extent of fire safety measures necessary to mitigate them. This point was particularly emphasised in relation to higher risk workplaces.”
Have there been any recent prosecutions against landlords for breaching fire safety regulations?
There have been several recent incidents of landlords being prosecuted for fire safety offences, including:
- In February 2021, an HMO landlord was prosecuted following a fire in a five-bedroom home. Only one fire detector had been fitted. Taunton Crown Court handed down a nine-month custodial sentence, suspended for 18 months.
- A landlord who had previous convictions for harassing tenants, failure to comply with improvement notices, and poor management of HMOs was ordered to pay over £7,000 in fines and costs for fire safety failures. Sentencing, which took place in Sheffield in March 2021, also saw the landlord given a 12-month Community Order. When inspecting the property, housing officials found evidence of inadequate fire detection and heating systems, damaged fire doors, serious damp, unsafe electrics including bypassed electricity meters, and rat infestations, which they said left occupants ‘vulnerable to serious risk of harm from fire and infection’.
- In October 2020, a landlord was sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with a fine of £20,000 and £12,000 in costs following the death of a tenant in a house fire. The HMO was occupied by seven people; however, there were no fire doors and although some fire detection was present it may not have worked. Furthermore, there was no linking in the fire detection apparatus as required by law.
Local and central authorities are increasing their enforcement of landlord fire safety breaches. The new measures to be included in the Fire Safety Bill will add to fire safety compliance requirements applicable to landlords and managers of HMOs. If you are being investigated for suspected fire safety compliance breaches, it is imperative that you contact a criminal defence lawyer or barrister immediately to ensure the best interests of you and/or your company are protected.