Short-term Lets and Fire Safety
Q: While our management is confident that our fire safety systems and procedures are entirely appropriate for 90 per cent of our flats which are owner occupied or let long term, we have a concern about a very small number of flats which are occasionally used for short term letting – even Airbnb.
While we are taking action through the leases to minimise this practice, we are concerned that there may be extra regulations for flats let in this way, such as for example provision of fire blankets in the kitchen, which are not being followed by the owners engaged in such letting.
FPRA Chairman Bob Smytherman replies:
This is a very difficult issue as the use of flats has now changed significantly since many leases were written and signed long before the likes of AirBnB and the lack of affordable housing for residents to buy.
In terms of fire regulations, the leaseholder must adhere to the terms of the lease they signed, regardless whether or not they choose to enter into a tenancy or not. It will be for each leaseholder that enters in to such an arrangement to enforce any breaches of the lease by their tenant. In practice this is best achieved by good communication with all parties so they understand their responsibilities.
My practical advice would be, if you have concerns about any flat, having undertaken your responsibilities under the Fire Safety Regulations (you as directors are responsible in terms of the common areas), then I suggest first discussing those concerns with the occupier concerned. If the issue can’t be resolved informally then I suggest discussing with the leaseholder responsible under the lease.
If both of these fail to resolve the issue, then your local authority has a number of powers they can use to enforce fire safety regulations on private landlords. In terms of specific advice about fire safety measures that are imposed on short term tenants that may be different from long leaseholders, I suggest discussing this with the private sector housing officer from your local council. Many councils employ specialists who understand the leasehold sector and are well placed to advise.
Finally, if the concerns you have are of a more immediate and serious risk of fire then your local fire service will be able to intervene and enforce any breaches of regulations.
In terms of the legal aspect about new regulations taking precedence over the lease, my advice would be almost certainly (as leases often have clauses that require compliance with new laws that may be passed after the lease is signed) the tribunal will be the ultimate arbiter if a case got that far which of course should be avoided if at all possible.
I think what we can expect in the near future is a tightening of the regulations following the outcome of the Grenfell enquiry.
I am continuing to work with Government to ensure any changes are both reasonable and proportionate and we will continue to update members through the newsletter.
[Submitted May 2019]