What is an Inner Room?
An inner room is simply a room that’s reached through another living area, for example, a bedroom off a lounge in a flat. An inner room poses a serious fire risk because, if a fire starts elsewhere in your home, there’s no escape route available and you could get trapped.
If you’re building or refurbishing your home and the work changes the layout of your property, you must comply with building regulations and this is especially relevant if you’re creating an inner room. If you’re a landlord or planning on letting a property with inner rooms that does not have an escape window, or a second escape route, you will need to comply with the RRFSO and the Housing Act, even if your property complied with building regulations at the time the layout was created. Failing to do so could have very serious consequences, including prison or large fines in the event of a death or injury in your property. Luckily there’s some very thorough guidance to help you stay safe. The RRFSO, the Housing Act and building regulations state that inner rooms can be built so long as an escape window is provided. This does mean that it’s unlikely that inner rooms above the first floor of a building would be allowed.
RRFSO & the Housing Act
The RRFSO (Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order) was a result of changes to fire safety law, which came into force on 1st October 2006. Both the RRFSO and the Housing Act are there to ensure that rented properties have adequate fire safety and escape routes. If you have inner rooms above the first floor in a rented property, you may have to fit a fire suppression system, some fire doors and smoke detectors. The RRFSO has consolidated existing fire safety legislation into one set of regulations, aligning fire safety legislation with Health & Safety law and putting the responsibility of fire safety for people firmly on the owner/occupier/employer or landlord – aka the ‘Responsible Person’. The focus of the RRFSO is on fire prevention. The ‘Responsible Person’ is to carry out Fire Risk Assessments and implement appropriate fire protection measures.
Building Regulations & ADB
In England and Wales, Fire Regulations are known as ADB or Approved Document B. They outline the set of fire safety standards a building must meet by law. When it comes to inner rooms, Approved Document B suggests they may be allowed if suitable fire suppression systems are installed. The guidance isn’t specific, except in the case of loft conversions in houses with a total of three floors after the conversion (an additional basement floor might also be allowed). For flats with rooms above the first floor, the recent BS 9991 guidance proposes fire suppression throughout the flat, but as this conflicts with the common practice of providing suppression in the living area (or access room) you should speak to your building control officer.
The LACoRS Guide
The LACoRS Guide is aimed at landlords and fire safety officers and offers practical advice on fire risk assessment with case studies and suggested fire safety solutions. LACoRS will allow most types of open plan layouts permitted by building regulations, expect where a house has been divided into bedsits. The LACoRS Guide isn’t law, but it is regarded as legislation and, unlike building regulations, it applies retrospectively to all properties. Properties that don’t meet the requirements can only remain in use where it is ‘not reasonably practical’ for a landlord or homeowner to remedy the problem.
The LACoRS Guide states:
“… provision of a suitable water suppression system can, in some circumstances, allow for relaxed provision of certain other fire safety measures [such as] relaxed requirements for inner rooms.”
If you’ve got an inner room or you plan on creating an inner room, you’ll need a fire engineer or fire risk assessment. The law only requires that a landlord or ‘Responsible Person’ go as far as is reasonably practical and it may, in practice, be possible for you to agree a solution with your local authority’s housing team, but building regulations, the RRFSO and the Housing Act must be adhered to so let Automist help you meet those regulations, stay responsible and help keep your tenants safe.