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Buy to let property investors need to make fire hazard checks during the regular property inspections that I am sure they all do during their tenancies.
Regular readers of the little things I write (I hope to help them) will know that I make a big issue about doing regular property inspections to their buy to let properties. They should always give notice of their intention to visit but should ensure that they are able to see how the tenant is living at regular intervals.
The need for this was brought home to me forcibly last week, when I went on a visit to the local Fire Safety Centre to check for fire hazards.
In order to train firemen, they had built a life-size model of a house. It was all very impressive, and as we walked through doors to find ourselves in a back-yard or on a canal-bank, it felt very like we had wandered into some kind of a Narnia scenario, except the dangers were not the White Witch but fire and smoke inhalation.
It was very odd, but suddenly fire hazard dangers seemed very obvious, though unthought of by me until then. Perhaps it was because of the environment, but I became aware of the issue of a toaster being stored under a kitchen cabinet. If this was used in-situ, or not moved far enough out from the cupboard, this posed a serious fire hazard at the worst and badly scorching the cabinet at the least.
We moved into the lounge. Festooned with candles, some of which were open flames only inches from hanging curtains (something quite common as we lead up to Christmas). We all know of the dangers of candles near curtains, but do we all realise how far a flame can travel in a sudden draught? Tenants should be spoken to, pleasantly, the dangers explained and the fact that a small tea-light, completely enclosed in a glass jar or holder, is less likely to be a fire hazard.
We moved upstairs – no risks there as the carpet was well-fitted and there were banisters on both side of the staircase. There were more candles in the bathroom, which may not be a major risk in some properties, but curtains and blinds are usually flammable, as are shower curtains. Some landlords prefer a shower curtain to a screen; they are easily and cheaply replaced – but there is again the risk that a candle could set them alight and whilst the bathroom may contain the fire for a certain length of time, it would not entirely prevent major damage from smoke.
We moved into the main bedroom. Here we spotted various fire hazards, ranging from the highly possible to the perhaps unlikely; but even the unlikely can, once in 100 times, occur. In this bedroom, a large window faced a mirror. Now in November, few of us spotted the danger, but apparently, there was one of those once in a hundred cases I mentioned – on a scorching summer day, a fire had occurred because the sun had been reflected in the mirror and caused a fire.
Other fire hazards in the bedroom were a lap-top left on top of the bed; the softness of the duvet meant it moulded itself around the laptop, which was left switched on. The air-vents underneath were blocked. This was an ideal environment for a fire to start. Any item that causes the production of heat, such as a hairdryer or hair-tongs, should always be turned off and NEVER left on a bed, piles of clothes or a sofa.
The second bedroom was quite small, but had the usual items that might be found in a teenagers bedroom – television and CD player; there seemed little to worry about there, but as I was there looking for fire hazards, I checked under the bed – to see a sun-bed stored away. Aside from the worries about skin burning, this is again an item that produces heat and, in this bedroom, without having a huge amount of space in which to dissipate the heat. This room also had multiple plugs in a socket extension lead – again a common cause of fire.
It was an interesting evening, but I left feeling very aware that fire hazards are not always noticeable. Make sure your fire safety equipment is up to date; make sure there are adequate plug sockets; tell your tenants that in the event of a fire they must leave the property immediately and telephone for professional help, but also: by regular property inspections, pointing out bad practice and promoting the good, you may save them from the awful experience of having a fire in your property, but their home.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon