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Fire and furnishing regulations - what to look out for

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All landlords and agents will want to ensure that their tenants are as safe from fire as reasonably possible.

There is significant legislation which governs landlords’ obligations regarding fire safety in residential accommodation. The Furniture and Furnishings Fire Safety Regulations were introduced primarily to address the fire resistance standards in domestic upholstered furniture and furnishings.

In particular, the focus of the Regulations was to control the dangers from poisonous gases produced from the components in the fillings of furniture, and to show compliance with the Regulations through proper labelling.

According to the Furniture Industry Research Association and the British Furniture Confederation, Government research conducted conveyed that since 2000 it was estimated that the Regulations had saved up to 1860 lives since their incorporation into UK law.

What do the Regulations say?

All furniture supplied in properties after 1st January 1997 must comply with the Regulations.

All furniture that is in addition to or in replacement of existing furniture, in a property let prior to 1st January 1997, must comply with all the fire resistance requirements.

It is useful to note that in accordance with s46 (8) of the Consumer Protection Act 1987, furniture supplied in properties before 1st March 1993 need not be replaced until a new supply is made. A new supply will occur when a new agreement is made with a new tenant. Where goods have been supplied or hired out, a continuation or renewal of such hire or loan with the same person does not constitute a further supply to that person.

In a nutshell, a tenancy with non compliant furniture may be in existence before 1st March 1993 however this furniture will not need to be replaced until a new supply is made, irrespective of whether that date is later than the 1st January 1997.

How do the Regulations apply?

The Regulations apply to any upholstered furniture including the following:

  • Mattresses and padded bases
  • Pillows and cushions
  • Sofas and armchairs
  • Children’s furniture
  • Loose and stretch covers for furniture

However they do not apply to the following (which are covered under General Product Safety Regulations 2005):

  • Carpets
  • Curtains
  • Other bedding – Pillowcases, mattress protectors, sleeping bags

The Regulations outline the obligation for all furniture manufactured after 1st March 1989 and sold by a reputable retailer by 1st March 1990, to meet the levels of fire resistance through the ignitability tests (match and cigarette tests) defined within the Regulations.

Any furniture manufactured prior to 1950 will be exempt from the legislation because the toxic fillings were not used prior to that date, provided the furniture has not been re-upholstered.

A permanent label must be fitted to every item of new furniture and a display label must be fitted to every item of new furniture at the point of sale to show their compliance.

Do the Regulations apply to you?

Yes, if you are a landlord or agent.

The Regulations apply to anyone supplying upholstered furniture in the course of business, and includes all furniture supplied in rental accommodation. Naturally this encompasses landlords and agents within this definition when properties are let furnished.

Agents will be curious to understand whether they are covered by the Regulations. While this is a matter for the courts, the view that the Department for Business Innovation and Skill has taken is that if the agent is managing the property it seems viable that the agent would be responsible for ensuring that all furniture and furnishings comply with the Regulations.

However, if the agent has purely introduced the tenancy and it is clear that the contract, including the furniture, is between the landlord and agent then it would be argued that the obligation would fall on the landlord in this instance. In those circumstances, both landlords and agents should ensure compliance in relation to properties they own or having dealings with.

What do landlords/agents need to look for when letting furnished properties?

A landlord/agent must ensure that all upholstered furniture has a permanently fixed label specifying that the item complies with the legislation.  

As noted, for some time now, upholstered furniture has had to comply with the Regulations. Landlords and agents should ensure that furniture supplied in the course of the tenancy does comply.

It is prudent for landlords/agents to keep detailed inventories of furniture supplied to mitigate against the risk of being held responsible for furniture which has not been supplied by them. This inventory should be checked against the furniture at the property at regular intervals.

Enforcement

The Regulations are enforced by Trading Standard. Failure to comply with the Regulations is a criminal offence. The penalties for non compliance may include a substantial fine, criminal prosecution, civil claims or product recalls. The Insurance in the property may also be invalidated.

If a landlord/agent is found to be in breach of the Regulations then the defence of due diligence may apply. This means the courts may entertain a defence if the accused party can show that they took all reasonable steps and exercised due diligence to prevent committing the offence. Keeping records of details of the furniture can prove invaluable when determining the liability of a party.

Attempts to bypass the legislation by the landlord or agent by, for example, obtaining a letter from the tenant stating that he does not mind the furniture is illegal, or leaving the furniture in the garage or shed for the tenant to bring in, or even selling the furniture to the tenant will not be tolerated by the courts. The safety of tenants is paramount and any attempts to circumvent the legislation are likely to be dealt with severely by the courts.

 

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