Airbnb balcony collapse in Brighton prompts fire service to warn landlords about duty to keep guests safe

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An Airbnb property

The Airbnb balcony collapse in Brighton has prompted fire safety bosses to issue a warning to landlords about their responsibility to keep their guests safe.

The fire service said: “East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service would like to encourage everyone to improve safety in short-term holiday lets and party accommodation to prevent any future incidents or accidents.

“Brighton and Hove has a thriving tourist industry and large-group holiday (and) party lets are a popular choice for people visiting the area.

“However, that relaxing getaway can rapidly turn into a disaster if correct fire and other safety standards have not been implemented by those legally responsible for the property.

“Previously, a group of letting agents and owners have worked with our fire safety specialists to improve the safety of their properties.

“This enabled the agents to learn about legal requirements for these properties, including which smoke alarms are best suited and what improvements they can make, to ensure that in case of fire everyone can safely escape.

“However, in light of a balcony collapse in Brighton, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service would now like to take this opportunity to also remind anyone involved in short-term holiday lets (and) party accommodation of wider safety requirements.

“It is imperative that those who have any control or who are in any position of responsibility consider carefully the safety of guests using their premises.”

Construction plans

Construction plans

The fire service’s business safety manager for Brighton and Hove, Amy Reynolds, said: “We have been very encouraged by the way some letting agents and owners have taken on board our advice and we hope that other people in the same business take note and follow their lead.

“We appreciate that providing people with holiday accommodation can be a rewarding experience both personally and financially but with it comes a legal responsibility to ensure the health and safety of those that you are renting to.

“These properties are of particular significance to the fire service because the people staying inside may not know what to do in case of an emergency and so reducing the risk of a fire or other emergency in the first place is of great importance.

“The service takes its role in protecting its community very seriously and will visit such premises and enforce fire safety law where necessary.

“Where the service encounters premises that fall well below expected standards and place people at risk, it may prohibit or restrict the use of such premises or even prosecute those responsible for the failings.

“Additionally, where fire safety inspectors encounter such premises not previously known to the service, they will inform partner authorities responsible for enforcing building and planning regulations.”

The balcony collapse in Brighton led to an earlier its own safety warning from the fire service about people mistakenly using decorative or weakened balconies.

Four casualties were taken to hospital when the balcony, in Montpelier Road, collapsed in July.

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Amy Reynolds added: “Quite a few of the properties around the city have these types of balconies, they are more of a decorative feature than a place to stand or sit. Over the years they can sometimes crack, allow water in and subsequently get weaker.

“We would like to remind the local community of the hazards associated with balconies that are not necessarily constructed for the purpose of sitting or standing on.”

A spokesman for AirBnb said: “The safety of our community is our number one priority. We urge all hosts to take some basic steps to keep their homes safe, and provide hosts with advice, approved by safety associations on how to make their homes safer, including having a working fire alarm and to check them regularly.

“We’ve also partnered with the Chief Fire Officers Association to produce a simple fire safety guide that includes expert advice from fire services across the UK to help keep our community safe.

“There have been over 140 million guest arrivals on Airbnb and problems for hosts and guests are extremely rare.”

The fire service urged anyone who owns or lives in a similar property to consider an assessment of the use of the balconies because of the risk of structural instability.

It said that there some key safety points that owners and managing agents should follow. These included:
• Premises that are let as short-term self-catering holiday accommodation must be provided with appropriate fire safety measures.
• It is the duty of the responsible person – normally the owner or managing agent – to carry out a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment.
• A fire risk assessment should identify all risks and hazards from fire and detail any required improvements or additional measures to reduce the risk.
• All interested and relevant parties, including guests, should be informed of any significant findings of the fire risk assessment so that everyone can play their part in making and keeping the premises safe from fire.
• Guests should be made aware of how fires may start so that they can reduce the risk by doing such things as turning off cookers, unplugging appliances or not wedging fire doors open.

Key areas to consider when carrying out a fire risk assessment include the suitability and testing regimes of the fire alarm and emergency lighting systems, the suitability of the escape routes (stairways/corridors) and the information provided to guests in the information pack (the escape plan and the dos and don’ts for guests to keep them safe).