Burning down the house: Fire risks are rising for landlords

As the traditional proverb goes, fire is never a gentle master. That’s never been more accurate, with landlords making more fire claims on their insurance policies than ever before.

The finding comes from having analysed thousands of UK landlord insurance claims filed between 2010 and 2018. Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance’s research shows that the number of fire claims increased significantly between December 2018 and February 2019 compared with the same period the year before.

Why are these claims increasing at such a rate, and is there anything landlords can do to prevent them needing to claim on their policies?

 

Recent fire claims: the facts

Analysis of Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance’s claims data reveals that between December 2017 and February 2018 and the same period the following year, the number of fire claims increased by 225 per cent.

Of these more recent claims, 46 per cent were a result of arson, 23 per cent were caused by electrical fires, 15.5 per cent a result of cooking and 15.5 per cent caused by heating systems.

The wide variety of fire claim types in the most recent period reveals how important it is for landlords to ensure that they have adequate insurance cover and take the necessary steps to minimise fire risk.

Let’s delve into three of these claims in more detail.

 

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Burning down the house: Fire risks are rising for landlords | Claim icon 1

Damage resulting from arson – estimated cost of claim £250,000

One of our clients was notified of a fire at their property, which had suffered major damage due to arson. The fire caused the roof to collapse and the first and ground floor were completely burnt out and gutted. The entire property will need to be rebuilt, forcing the tenant to move out and incurring a claim for loss of rent.

Burning down the house: Fire risks are rising for landlords | House icon

Accident involving a heater – estimated cost of claim £16,000

In our second example, when a heater was accidentally knocked over in the lounge it resulted in a fire which caused so much damage to the ceilings, plasterwork, window and internal joinery that the whole lot needed replacing, along with rewiring and lighting. Since the property remains uninhabitable, our client’s claim includes loss of rent until the property is repaired and a tenant can be reinstated.

Burning down the house: Fire risks are rising for landlords | claim icon two

Damage resulting from defective extractor fan – estimated cost of claim £67,000

A defective extractor fan was to blame for an incident at one client’s property, where the resulting fire not only caused extensive damage to the property, but also a leak in the ground floor bathroom of the house. While the water was stopped at the mains, without a working bathroom in the property, the tenants have had to move out while the damage is being repaired.

It’s impossible to predict when criminals will choose to set fire to a property, prevent accidents that may lead to fire or anticipate that the extractor fan will give up the ghost with such devastating consequences. However, there are ways to ensure that the damage, loss and hassle suffered by your properties are as limited as possible.

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Protecting your property and tenants from fire risk

An appropriate level of landlord insurance is vital to mitigate against fire risk.

While cover won’t stop damage from being caused, it will ensure that the cost of any repairs or rebuilds – and potentially the cost of temporarily rehousing tenants – will not come from your own pocket. However, for any fire claim to be paid out, you’ll need to ensure that you comply with relevant regulations.

These include (but are not limited to):

It’s vital that landlords have the required fire safety measures in place; including using only fire-safe furniture and furnishings, installing fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, keeping fires and heaters well-guarded, and ensuring that tenants do what they can to minimise risk (like not overloading sockets, testing smoke alarms, and unplugging appliances when they are not being used).

Check out Hamilton Fraser’s guide for more fire safety tips and advice for landlords.

Landlords of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) should also be warned that fire regulations will be more stringent.

Those who own rental properties in blocks of flats (or houses divided into flats) in particular should also understand the importance of fire doors, which can act as a robust first line of defence against a blaze. Not only can they ‘contain’ fire and smoke for some time; they can also ensure that inhabitants of the building have time to evacuate the building. While it’s important you buy the right fire door and have it correctly installed, it’s also vital that it’s used and maintained in the right way; failure to do so can lead to a hefty fine.

Finally, landlords should heed government electrical safety measures. This new ruling, announced in January 2019, requires landlords to employ electrical inspectors who meet minimum levels of qualifications and competence. While these measures are primarily designed to protect tenants, improvements to electrical safety should also lead to a reduction in electrical fire risk for landlords.

With landlord insurance fire claims on the rise, we urge landlords to do everything they can to minimise the risk of a blaze starting and protect their tenants. Is underinsurance a risk you’re willing to take?

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