Fire safety in the home – where can tenants and leaseholders look for help?

Your landlord

All tenants have a right for their accommodation to be kept in a reasonable state of repair - there should be further details on this in your tenancy agreement.

Some repairs are the landlord’s responsibility whether or not they are in the tenancy agreement. These are likely to include: the structure and exterior of the building, water and gas pipes and electrical wiring, gas fires and water heaters and any electrical or gas appliances the landlord provides.

If you report a problem to your landlord, they should give you an idea of how they will deal with it and how long it will take (again, there may also be further details on this in your tenant handbook or tenancy agreement).

Generally if you have a lease with the landlord, the landlord will only be responsible for the communal areas and any other areas specified in the lease – this also applies if you are a shared owner. You should check your lease to establish who is responsible in the first instance.

If you are dissatisfied with the way your landlord responds to your concerns, you may be able to use your landlord’s complaints procedure. If you are a tenant or leaseholder of a housing association or a local authority, you should ask to have the matter considered under the formal complaints procedure. If, having done so, you still do not think the landlord has dealt properly with your fire safety concerns you may be able to go to the council’s environmental health service (see below).

If you are a private tenant or leaseholder, your landlord may have a complaints procedure that you can use. Note that private landlords must install smoke alarms in rented residential accommodation and carbon monoxide detectors in rooms with a solid fuel appliance (eg a wood-burning stove). You can complain to your council’s environmental health department if your private landlord has not installed an alarm (or a detector if it’s obliged to do so) or if otherwise you do not think the landlord has dealt properly with your fire safety concerns.

Your council’s environmental health service

All rented homes must meet certain standards so that they are safe to live in. Those standards are assessed by the council’s environmental health service using the Housing Health and Safety Ratings System (HHSR). The standards cover any rented home: whether you are a private, housing association or local housing authority tenant and whether you are renting a house, flat or a room in a shared house.  If you believe that the problem affects your health and safety, you may want to report your landlord to the council’s environmental health department, explain what your concerns are, and request an assessment – these are usually offered free and should be carried out promptly.  Shelter provide excellent guidance on the process available here. If hazards are identified, the council can take action against your landlord.

If your landlord is the council you may still be able to request an inspection. Although the council’s environmental health service will not be able to take enforcement action against another part of the council, it may provide advice to that other part and you may be able to make a new complaint if that advice is not acted upon. 

Your fire and rescue authority

As well as the HHSR requirements above, there are additional fire safety duties in place relating to the common areas of (some) houses in multiple occupation, flats, maisonettes and sheltered accommodation (where no personal care is provided) – the person who has control of the premises, usually the landlord, must carry out a fire risk assessment and take specific action to minimise the risk of fire in common parts. Your local fire and rescue authority is responsible for enforcing these requirements.

If you have general concerns about fire safety in your home, you might want to arrange a fire safety visit. This will involve firefighters visiting your home to provide bespoke advice on how to avoid a fire, identify possible hazards and help find solutions to make you and your family safer.  Those in London can arrange a free visit here. Those outside London should contact their local fire and rescue authority or fire safety service.

The Health and Safety Executive

There is also a legal duty on landlords to have the gas supply and gas appliances checked annually by a gas safe engineer and to provide tenants with a copy of the safety check at the start of a tenancy and within 28 days of the annual check being done. Any failure to comply with these requirements can be reported to the Health and Safety Executive here.

The Regulator of social housing

All registered providers are registered with, and regulated by, the Homes and Communities Agency (the Regulator) and should comply with their Home Standard. The Regulator is legally obliged to regulate in a way that minimises interference, focusing on systemic failure of providers. It does not resolve individual complaints and cannot mediate in disputes between landlords and tenants.

Ombudsmen

Once you have exhausted any complaints procedure provided by:

  • your landlord
  • the local council
  • the fire and rescue authority
  • the Health and Safety Executive

if you remain dissatisfied you may be able to complain to an Ombudsman.

The Housing Ombudsman Service

The Housing Ombudsman has two roles:

1)      to resolve disputes involving members of the Scheme; and

2)      to support effective landlord-tenant dispute resolution by others.

All housing associations and local housing authorities are members of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme. Some private landlords are also voluntary members.

We can only investigate complaints about members of the Scheme once a complaint has completed the landlord’s complaint procedure, but we also have an active role in supporting residents and members to resolve complaints locally through the landlord’s complaints procedure. This support includes providing advice on our role, signposting to other useful organisations, helping residents to make a complaint and, if a landlord is not responding to a complaint, helping to try and ensure that they do respond – this is all part of supporting the effective resolution of disputes by others.

We consider complaints about how a landlord has responded to reports of a problem and what is fair in the circumstances of the case.  We do not look at the original problem – so we would not decide if, for example, failure to carry out a particular repair caused a fire safety hazard – but we would consider whether the landlord has dealt with the reported problem fairly and in line with its policies.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO)

LGO may be able to investigate a complaint that:

  • the council’s environmental health service has failed to respond properly to a complaint about the way a landlord has dealt with a tenant’s fire safety concern
  • the fire and rescue authority has failed to deal properly with a fire safety matter.

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO)

PHSO may be able to investigate a complaint about:

  • the Health and Safety Executive
  • the Regulator of social housing.