Looking for a student house can be a very exciting time, but it’s important not to overlook issues such as fire safety whilst hunting for a new home. Most landlords are reputable and pay due care and attention to tenants’ safety – but a minority could be renting out properties that are potential death traps.
Whilst the UK government is making efforts to bolster safety legislation for tenants, the law doesn’t necessarily compel landlords to do everything that they possibly could to ensure tenant’s protection – as Craig McIntosh, Assistant Chief Fire Officer for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service explained:
“Whilst it’s pleasing to see that there is a requirement for landlords to have carbon monoxide detectors, it’s disappointing that they haven’t extended the requirement to include smoke detection, particularly as more people die in dwelling fires than from carbon monoxide poisoning each year. Most of those in privately rented accommodation.”
Around 400 people per year die in accidental house fires while around 50 people a year die from CO2 poisoning, so it seems odd that regulatory legislation doesn’t also enforce smoke alarms as a priority.
Before signing for a house it is a good idea to check with your university, as many unions provide an accreditation service whereby a landlord is recommended by the university if they have gone beyond the minimum legal standards.
Some regions, such as West Yorkshire, are starting to operate their own accreditation schemes. BlueWatch helps those looking for a home to find properties that Fire and Rescue Services, or their partners, have officially validated. Approved landlords are issued with a BlueWatch certificate, which they can then use in their rental ads.
What should I look for?
Whilst the following points are not always legally binding, if a landlord has addressed them then it suggests they are responsible and mindful of the safety of their tenants:
- Fire alarms: Ensure the property has fire alarms and ask the landlord or estate agent to carry out a test demonstration for you. If the alarms are mains powered and operated via a central control unit, make sure they understand how it works and are able to explain this to you.
- Fire extinguishers and blankets: These are particularly important in shared kitchens and hallways, so make a point of checking that such areas contain at least one or the other.
- Gas appliances: It’s a legal requirement that gas appliances are 100% safe and this must be proven annually by a professional inspection – ask to see the documentation for the boiler and oven.
- Carbon monoxide: Whilst not strictly a fire safety issue, a landlord must ensure that carbon monoxide detectors have been fitted. Even if the boiler has been safety checked things can sometimes go wrong – and leaking CO poses a real threat to your life.
- Plugs and wiring: Make sure that there are no trailing or exposed wires anywhere as they could potentially spark and cause an electrical fire. Also check that plug sockets are not excessively overloaded and that the sockets themselves are not cracked or loose – faulty electrics cause over 7000 house fires a year.
- Fireproof furnishings: When looking for a student house you will usually require it to be ready furnished. Make sure that the furnishings provided by the landlord are fire resistant.
Craig McIntosh advises that the first thing to do when you move into a new house is to “make sure the escape route is pre-planned and everybody knows what it is. Have a phone available to call the Fire Service and your keys accessible so you can open the exits.”
Think about where a fire would be most likely to start and plan the escape route around that; make sure large objects like bicycles don’t end up blocking the planned escape route.
Day-to-day fire safety is just as important as planning, so regularly check your fire alarms, avoid using candles indoors, and close all interior doors during the night.
Here’s a great video made by Campus Life showing how you can effectively execute everyday fire safety during your time at university:
Remember to refer to our fire safety check list for an easy, quick run-down of what to look for when you’re searching for a new student home – and happy house hunting!
 Note that although not all of these points are bound legislation in documents such as The Housing Act 2004 and The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, a generally reputable landlord will provide them as standard.