Threshold, the national housing organisation, today called on the Minister for Housing to introduce tougher fire safety regulations for rented accommodation and for more resources to be given to local authorities to carry out fire safety inspections, especially of older rented properties.
Existing minimum dwelling standards regulations do not require landlords to provide smoke detectors, emergency escapes or modern heaters and cookers. In addition, the fire safety regulations that exist for multiple-unit properties are rarely enforced. This is because fire officers’ time is taken up with issuing fire certificates for proposed new construction. Threshold is calling on the Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, Noel Ahern T.D., to upgrade the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations, 1993, to include all aspects of fire safety.
Threshold is particularly concerned about overcrowded properties, where a lot of people share a confined space. The new Private Residential Tenancies Board gathers information on the number of tenants living in rented properties through landlord registrations. Threshold wants this information to be used to target inspections at ‘blackspots’ of older multiple-unit properties where the risk of fire is greater. The results of these inspections should also be published so that a clear picture exists of fire safety in rented accommodation around the country. At the moment, the Department of the Environment does not publish the numbers of residential properties inspected for fire safety.
Threshold welcomes a recent announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, of higher fire safety standards for new homes, including the requirement to have escape windows, heat alarms in the kitchen, and to have a total of four mains-operated smoke alarms. Since 1997, new multiple-unit dwellings have also been required to have mains-operated heat and smoke alarms. Threshold considers that tenants on low incomes in older rent properties should have similar protections.
Stephen Large, Co-ordinator of Threshold’s Advice Centre in Dublin, said:
“Most people will recall a fire in Dublin city centre last year, where a number of non-Irish nationals had a lucky escape from a blaze in a flat complex. If this fire had happened at night, they may not have got out alive.
We know that many older rented properties have windows that either are barred up, nailed shut or so old that they won’t open. Often people on the top floor have only one fire exit – the front door. This is totally unacceptable.
Fire safety is clearly a priority for new housing developments. But the Government must now pay serious attention to older properties, where a fire could result in many people being injured or killed. To do this, we need tougher rules and more resources devoted to inspecting these properties. We must ensure that there is no property rented in this country that doesn’t meet fire safety standards.
Of course, fire safety is not just the job of landlords and government, but tenants must also act to protect themselves. Today we’ve issued some practical fire safety tips that every tenant should read.” [See below]
Don’t Leave It Too Late! Fire Safety Tips for Tenants
- When viewing, look for a smoke detector and an unobstructed fire exit. Check that windows are not barred or nailed shut.
- Get smoke alarms and test them regularly – €15 is a small price to pay to protect yourself. Keep a fire extinguisher and fire blanket in your kitchen.
- Make sure that all electrical appliances, sockets and leads are in good working order. Don’t overload sockets.
- With an open fire, always use a fireguard and make sure the room is ventilated.
- Smokers, use proper ashtrays and don’t smoke in bed.
- Don’t use chip pans, they are too dangerous.
- Check that your cooker is turned off and put out an open fire before you go to bed.
- Overcrowding may save you money but cost you your life. As a rule, no more than four people for every bathroom.
- Have an escape plan and practice it with your flatmates.
- Contact your landlord immediately with problems. Your landlord must act, but your safety is your responsibility.