Here is a question to the Blog Clinic from Susan (not her real name) who is a landlord
I am an accidental landlord of a large HMO property and currently, fire safety is of great concern to me.
Obviously, smoking is prohibited within the building but am I legally allowed to prohibit the use of candles, incense sticks and oil burners, etc (electric fires even)?
If so, can I just inform the tenants of this or would it need to have been written into the agreement to be able to enforce it? Many thanks.
You cannot take action to prohibit something (even on fire safety grounds) which is not covered by the terms of your tenancy agreement.
However just because a tenancy agreement clause does not specifically mention candles, incense sticks and oil burners, this does not mean that they are not already covered. For example, most professionally drafted tenancy agreements will have a clause relating to fire safety.
When drafting tenancy agreement clauses lawyers try to use general clauses that have as wide an application as possible. For example, say you add a clause which says
You must not use any candles, incense sticks and oil burners in the property
That would deal with your current problem but it would not cover tenants fireworks which are even more of a fire hazard. However, if you use a general clause in your tenancy agreement such as this one.
You must not keep any dangerous or flammable goods (those that easily catch fire), materials or substances in or on the Property, apart from those needed for general household use (such as matches).
Then this will cover all items which are a fire hazard, not just those you have identified.
In fact specifically giving a list of prohibited items in a tenancy agreement is a dangerous thing to do as it implies that everything else is allowed! Although lawyers overcome this problem by putting before the list words like ‘including but not limited to …’
So I would suggest that you have a detailed look at your tenancy agreement. Fire hazard items will probably be included somewhere but you may not have recognised this.
Letters and House rules
Assuming your tenancy agreement has a suitable clause relating to fire safety, then as your tenants may also not realise that candles etc are covered under it, I suggest you write to them explaining this. Your letter should
- Tell tenants what is prohibited
- Explain that these are prohibited on fire safety grounds, and
- Identify the clause in their tenancy agreement which covers this
A good way to elaborate on the general prohibitions set out in tenancy agreements is to draw up a set of ‘house rules’ for tenants which explains things in non-legal language. Just make sure that everything you include in the house rules is actually covered by your tenancy agreement.
As an HMO landlord, you have a responsibility to enforce standards as if the Local Authority find that there is a fire hazard they will normally blame you rather than the tenants.
Fire hazards, incidentally, will also include things like blocking fire exits by storing bicycles indoors. So
- On inspection visits, if you spot a fire hazard, you need to tell tenants it is not allowed
- You need to keep a record of your inspection visit which includes a note of what you have told the tenants
- You then need to follow this up with a letter or email to the tenants confirming your oral instructions
- Make sure you check, on your next inspection visit, that the problem has been resolved.
Then if you receive a visit from the authorities about this you will be able to show them your paperwork which will prove that you have done what you can about it. Which will help you avoid prosecution, or give you a defence to any prosecution brought.