Fire Safety in Rental Accommodation

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Being a landlord can be a lucrative endeavour, particularly given the current high demand for rental accommodation in Ireland. However, landlords do bear serious legal responsibilities to ensure that the buildings that they are renting are safe and compliant with relevant regulations. This is a general guide but it is recommended to engage the services of a qualified engineer / assessor to carry out a compliance report on your building to ensure that it is compliant and if not, how to achieve compliance.

While adhering to the law is obviously motivation enough, by complying with regulations, you will be dramatically reducing the likelihood of a fire in your property and reducing the quantum of damage one would cause if one occurred. Furthermore, standard insurance policies will insist that a building is compliant in order for cover to be valid. In short, complying with the regulations help reduce the risk of fire, limits the damage that will be done if one occurs and ensures your insurance policy is valid.

Landlord’s Responsibilities

Building regulations do not apply to buildings constructed prior the 1st June 1992. However, this does not mean that owners of buildings constructed pre-’92 have no responsibilities at all. On the contrary, while it would not be feasible to insist that buildings, some of which are literally hundreds of years old, are retrofitted to adhere to modern building regulations, landlords of all buildings must adhere to certain minimum requirements to ensure the safety of those living in their buildings.

The Fire Services Acts 1981 & 2003 places a legal obligation on landlords to:

  • Take all reasonable measures to guard against the outbreak of fire on such premises.
  • Provide reasonable fire safety measures for such premises and prepare and provide appropriate fire safety procedures for ensuring the safety of persons on such premises.
  • Ensure that the fire safety measures and procedures are applied at all times, and
  • Ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of persons on the premises in the event of an outbreak of fire whether such outbreak has occurred or not.

Those deemed to “have control over a building” are its owners which in the case of a multi-unit-development is the OMC (Owners’ Management Company).

In addition to the above, The Housing (Standards for Rented Housing) Regulations 2017 which were introduced on 1st July 2017 prescribe a landlord’s responsibility in relation to fire as follows:

Fire Safety

  • Each house shall contain a suitable self-contained fire detection and alarm system.
  • Each house shall contain a suitably located fire blanket.
  • Each self-contained house in a multi-unit building shall contain a suitable fire detection and alarm system and an emergency evacuation plan.
  • A suitable fire detection and alarm system shall be provided in common areas within a multi-unit building.
  • Emergency lighting shall be provided in all common areas within a multi-unit building.
  • Fire detection and alarm systems and emergency lighting systems required under Regulation 10(4) and 10(5) shall be maintained in accordance with current standards.
  • In this Regulation:“current standards” means standards produced by the National Standards Authority of Ireland for Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Systems in Buildings and for Emergency Lighting; “multi-unit building” means a building that contains 2 or more houses that share a common access.

What is a Fire Safety Certificate?

A Fire Safety Certificate is a certificate issued by the Building Control Authority on foot of an application submitted to it. A Fire Safety Certificate certifies that the works or building to which the application relates will, if constructed in accordance with the plans and specifications submitted, comply with the requirements of Part B [Fire] of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations 1997. Note that no actual onsite follow up inspection takes place as a matter of course; the awarding of a certificate is a desk-based exercise based on information supplied by the applicant. The existence of a fire safety certificate simply means that the building design complies with regulations; it doesn’t mean that the actual building complies.

For example, a building could have been constructed in 1993 and awarded a fire certificate at the time. However, hypothetically the building could have been let fall into disrepair over the ensuing decades. Fire alarms, emergency lighting, smoke / heat detectors, fire extinguishers etc all require regular servicing and maintenance. If neglected, the building would lapse into a state of non-compliance. So the existence or non-existence of a fire certificate doesn’t prove compliance or non-compliance. A building with no fire certificate could be totally compliant and one with a certificate could be utterly incompliant.

Which Developments Require a Fire Safety Certificate?

The following developments built after 1st August 1992 (other than those listed as exempt below) require a Fire Safety Certificate;

  • Works in connection with the design and construction of a new building
  • Works in connection with the material alteration of:
    • A day centre
    • A building containing a flat
    • A hotel, hostel or guest building
    • An institutional building
    • A place of assembly
    • A shopping centre
  • Works in connection with the material alteration of a shop, office or industrial building where additional floor area is being provided within the existing building or where the building is being sub divided into a number of units for separate occupancy.
  • Works in connection with the extension of a building by more than 25 square metres
  • A building as regards which a material change of use takes place.

  • Article 5(4) of the Building Control Regulations 1997—2014 defines a “material alteration” as follows.
    An alteration (other than a repair or renewal), where the work, or any part of the work, carried out by itself would be subject to a requirement of Part A or B of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations.

     

    Which Developments are Exempted from the Requirement of a Fire Safety Certificate?

    The following buildings are exempted from the requirement to obtain a Fire Safety Certificate:

    • Certain single storey agricultural buildings.
    • A building used as a dwelling other than a flat.
    • A single storey domestic garage.
    • A single storey building ancillary to a dwelling which is used exclusively for recreational or storage purposes or the keeping of plants, birds or animals for domestic purposes and is not used for any trade or business or for human habitation.
    • Works by a Building Control Authority in its functional area.
    • Works in connection with a Garda station, a courthouse, a barracks and certain government buildings.

    Source: DublinCity.ie


    Opinion of Compliance

    As mentioned above, a building constructed prior to ’92 won’t have a fire certificate unless material alterations were carried out since then and one was applied for and granted as part of carrying out these alterations. The fact that a building doesn’t have a fire certificate, as mentioned above, doesn’t condemn the building to a state of incompliance. A landlord can hire an assessor to carry out a site survey to advise of whether or not the building complies with the standards with which it is obliged to comply. Again, it is worth mentioning that buildings built prior to ’92 do not need to comply with building regulations but will need to meet other minimum standards. The assessor may list a number of measures that would need to be taken in order to bring the building into a compliant state. Once done, the assessor can issue an opinion of compliance which basically states that even though the assessor didn’t oversee the construction of this building, (s)he is happy to certify that in their opinion the building is compliant with all the requirements with which it is obliged to comply. This is a very important point as banks won’t take an incompliant building as security ie they won’t issue a mortgage on such a building. A building that isn’t “bankable” can only be sold to a cash buyer and as such its value is diminished. Accordingly, if selling a property, investing in the building to ensure it is compliant & paying an assessor to confirm this may well be a sound investment. By being able to demonstrate that the building is compliant, it should then become bankable as so, more valuable.