Compliance with fire safety – What are my responsibilities as a commercial landlord?

Fire safety in modern building

As a commercial landlord, you have a number of responsibilities stipulated by legislation and also the lease agreement between you and your tenants. Generally, as a landlord, you are responsible for the general upkeep and maintenance of the building and its structure, which may also include health and fire safety responsibilities.

We use the terms ‘generally’ and ‘may’ because there is no universal answer and judges have been known to interpret the term ‘structure’ rather broadly. To protect yourself, it is best to outline the responsibilities clearly in the commercial lease and also check with expert landlord solicitors like Romain Coleman if you are in doubt. Our solicitors only represent commercial landlords and we help you to deal with any tenant related issues promptly.

What does the law say?

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO) that’s in effect, duties lie with the responsible person (RP) in control of the premises. If the property acts as a workplace, the responsible person will be the employer. However, if the lease outlines that the landlord is responsible for the common spaces of the building (think stairways and common systems like the fire alarm), then the landlord is also a responsible person and so the health and safety duties overlap.

If both commercial landlords and tenants have co-existing responsibilities, then make the lease as clear as possible and aim to work together with your tenants.

Under the RRO, one of the vital and legally required elements of the fire safety strategy is a fire risk assessment. The Order doesn’t specify how often a risk assessment has to be carried out, but it must be regularly reviewed. The assessment should also be immediately reviewed if:

  • There are staff members who are disabled or under the age of 18
  • There has been a fire incident, even if it was minor
  • The structure of the building has been altered
  • New equipment or machinery is being put in place

Generally, you should be looking to review the fire risk assessment whenever there are changes made to the building or work environment.

Business premises in the UK are also legally required to have a fire detection system in place, which should be set up by the landlord. Depending on the size of the building, sprinklers may also be necessary. Details of where fire extinguishers and exit signs should be placed will be covered in the fire risk assessment.

Carrying out a risk assessment

The responsible person must carry out a risk assessment of the property. Prospective tenants expect to see a copy of the risk assessment before signing the lease, so you should carry out an initial risk assessment on the entire property. Once the commercial tenant has moved in, however, they will usually have to undertake regular risk assessments themselves. The only exception to this is if the lease stipulates that the fire safety of communal areas are the responsibility of the landlord; in this case, you would need to review your own risk assessment regularly and make the tenants aware that you will need access to all parts of the building. It’s also important to note that if your tenant moves out, the responsibilities fall back on you entirely. Therefore, you must make sure you’re fire safety compliant and that your tenants are doing their duties too.

Romain Coleman is here to help

Fire safety management is not just a legal obligation; it exists to prevent fires and control any fires that occur so that human lives and businesses can be saved. It’s estimated that preventable fires in commercial warehouses alone cause a financial loss of £230 million per year, as well as the loss of 1,000 jobs. If you’re uncertain whether you are the person responsible for carrying out a risk assessment or installing a fire alarm in your commercial property, or if you are having disputes with your tenants over fire safety concerns, you should seek advice to address the situation immediately. If fire safety regulations are not being followed correctly, the responsible person could face a fine of up to £5,000 or imprisonment for two years. There could also be a fire risk that has been overlooked, which has the potential to destroy lives and livelihoods.

Romain Coleman has years of experience as landlord solicitors in London, and provide specialist legal advice only to landlords – never tenants. We’ve helped people like you to solve their challenges quickly and economically, so to discuss your commercial property landlord concerns, call Romain Coleman London solicitors today on 0208 520 4555.