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Renters fear tenancy risk for highlighting fire safety concerns

21 September 2021

MILLIONS OF individuals privately renting or in social housing fear a revenge eviction if they raise fire safety concerns with landlords, despite issues such as inadequate fire doors and broken fire alarms being prevalent. That’s the key finding of new research conducted to mark Fire Door Safety Week 2021 (which runs from Monday 20 September to Sunday 26 September).

Shockingly, 13% of those individuals privately renting in the UK – equating to something in the region of 1.7 million people – fear that raising fire safety issues with their landlords will put their tenancy at risk. Furthermore, 12% of social housing tenants – equating to 468,000 individuals – harbour the exact same concerns.

The research has also found that more than one-in-ten (ie 12%) renters wouldn’t report a fire-related issue because, based on previous experience, they believe their landlord is unlikely to fix the issue. This correlates with the fact that the same percentage of renters had not had their most recent fire safety-related issue resolved within three months of reporting it.

Helen Hewitt, CEO of the British Woodworking Federation (the organiser of Fire Door Safety Week) explained: “Renters need to feel as though their voices are being heard and that any problems they raise will be fixed, otherwise it discourages the reporting of issues and the whole system breaks down, in turn putting lives at serious risk. The fact that people feel anxious about reporting issues is a major cause for concern.”

Hewitt continued: “The theme of this year’s Fire Door Safety Week campaign is ‘Make Time to Save Lives’. We view this as a vital message. It’s crucial that both landlords and tenants take time to identify, report and resolve fire safety issues in order to ensure that lives are not needlessly lost to fires.”

Fire safety issues facing renters

The seriousness of underreporting is underlined by the fact that fire safety issues are prevalent in all forms of rented accommodation.

One third (ie 33%) of all renters have experienced fire doors being damaged or propped open in the last 12 months, a quarter (25%) have been living with a broken or missing fire extinguisher and just under a quarter (23%) were aware of a smoke alarm that wasn’t working.

More than one-in-ten (14%) renters have had concerns over their building’s cladding in the past year, while the same proportion have noticed a fire exit in their property being blocked.

Exploring these issues in more detail, the research finds that people residing in privately rented housing are more likely to be living with fire safety-related issues in their homes than social housing tenants. Twice as many private renters had experienced a smoke alarm not working in the last 12 months. Three times as many had experienced fire doors being damaged or propped open in the same period when compared to those living in social housing.

Commenting on these survey findings, Hewitt noted: “Fire safety measures such as fire doors play a vital role in containing the spread of smoke and fire, allowing building occupants to safely exit a building in the event of a fire while the Emergency Services respond to the incident. It’s shocking that, despite the Government’s focus on improving fire safety across the UK, those in rental properties continue to be put at risk through inadequate fire safety measures, among them damaged fire doors.”

Duty of Care

In England alone, last year there were 176 fire-related fatalities caused by dwelling fires and more than 6,500 non-fatal casualties in 2020.

On that note, Hewitt stated: “Private and social housing landlords have a Duty of Care to ensure that their tenants live in safe properties. We urge them to act without delay so that those people are protected.”

Gavin Tomlinson, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council’s Protection Committee, added: “Fire doors that are damaged, poorly fitted or wedged open are not fire doors. They’re just doors. They will not save lives or protect property. We encourage tenants to report any fire safety concerns to their landlord and, if those concerns are not resolved, tenants should contact their local authority or seek advice from the Fire and Rescue Service. It’s important that the minority of landlords who do not comply with the law should not be allowed to ignore fire safety and put the lives of tenants at risk.”

Making time for fire safety

The research also highlights the fact that, among both renters and homeowners, fire safety is a lower priority when it comes to fixing or reporting broader household problems. Overall, only 5% of individuals would report a fire door being damaged compared to 32% who would report or fix their front door not locking properly, 17% who would report appliances not working and 11% who would report a porch light that was defective in some way.

In conclusion, Helen Hewitt told Fire Safety Matters: “It only takes one fire for the importance of fire doors to quickly become very apparent. Together, we can all play a part in ensuring they remain fit for purpose and ready to help save lives. Individuals should not wait to check their fire doors. They should do so now.”