To Insure or not to Insure? That is the Question

To Insure or not to Insure? That is the Question

10:12 AM, 10th January 2012, About 12 years ago 4

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January heralds house insurance renewal month. Every year I promise to get excited about it, compare quotes and wallow for the next year in the knowledge that I’ve secured the most competitive deal.

The reality is, when the broker calls I groan with resignation and tell him just to get on with it. As he flicked through his computer information on my claim history, he came out with “Oooo, aren’t you a good client? You haven’t made any claims in the last 4 years so it’ll be easy to get you a good quote”.

“Excellent!” said I “And if I HAD claimed in the last 4 years I presume my quote would have risen to affect the amount paid out?”


“Well, yes, that can be a problem” he replied.

Me: “And that’s why I don’t claim. Find me a quote, don’t bore me with the details and just let me know the telephone number for when a house burns down”.

However, how many houses do actually burn down? With HMOs, we are rightly governed by so many fire risk assessments and regulations that, according to my recent chat with a man in uniform, “you can stand in the hallway for 30 minutes without a fire affecting you”. Great, so I’ve informed all tenants that, should a candle set light to the curtains or a cigarette get lost under the duvet cover, come out of the room calmly, stand in the hallway and enjoy the safety the firedoors, smokestrips and fire retardant plasterboard I give you.

Later, while walking the dog with a friend, we discussed, amongst school gossip and slow cooker recipes, the business of insurance. She asked that, if I’ve never made a claim, why bother with insurance? I explained that with HMOs there is ALWAYS the possibility of a fire. She counteracted with, “If your smoke alarms are hardwired and the fire station is round the corner, a fire wouldn’t have a chance to take hold”. Good point. As I weighed up the pros and cons another friend called during last week’s storm to say “A trampoline has blown in from next door’s garden, smashed a hole in my roof, broken the cold water tank and is currently wrapped around my chimney and I’ve just found out I’ve got to claim on MY insurance! Why the hell didn’t they peg the b****y thing down!”

So, it doesn’t matter how well maintained the house is, how many fire precautions are in place or how many baths you replace with showers to prevent flooding, are you willing to risk your cash on the odds of an unforeseen event happening which costs more than the insurance premiums?

On another note of insurance, the police turned up on Christmas Eve to take a statement following the case of Simon, his friend and the broken window. After checking that I hadn’t given permission for the perpetrator to chuck a flowerpot through the window in October, he gave me the crime number for “insurance purposes”. I laughed and said – “Unlikely, Officer!” We’ve settled for a community order whereby, should the police find the young man involved he’s under instruction to pay me the cost of the repair. The tenant said, “Sod that, I’ve already told his girlfriend I’m going to kick his head in when I next see him”.

Brilliant, case adjourned.

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8:33 AM, 11th January 2012, About 12 years ago

Err as an ex- fireman having a fire stn near you means nothing.
With continuing fire service cutbacks and reduction in the no of appliances sent to the initial call; along with dynamic risk assessment; fire damage will be considerably more than in the past.
This means fireman have to wait until there are the resources to commit to operations..
Remember you are dead within about 5 mins not from the fire but from the products of combustion.
The main killer being CO.
This is why every householder in the UK should take advantage of the Community Fire Safety initiative and arrange for a free visit from your local fire stn who will give a brief chat about fire safety, check and report on any hazards and invariably fit 2 free 10 year battery, tamper proof smoke detectors.
One brigade is now having a policy of sending 1 appliance not on blue lights to AFA's at places like HMO's!
What do you think will occur?
Make sure you insure for fire and try and give as much fire safety equipment and advice you can to your tenants.
Fire blankets in kitchen.
Ideally AFFF extinquishers throughout even more so in kitchens.
Door self closers that work and aren't wedged open.
You would be amazed at how even a normal door that is closed can keep back smoke and fire and assist people to exit a building
Fire doors wedged open were the  bane of our lives.
HMO's by their very nature , in my experience were  more prone to having fires.
Your local fire stn will also have free booklets for your tenant circumstances which you can issue when you wish.
Remember the electric blanket hazard for older tenants as they are more likely to have them.
Indeed I would suggest that you secure a key safe outside the HMO with the relevant keys for the Fire service and  give the code to the local fire stn who will keep these details at control to pass to stn on the call out sheets.
This invarably facilitates far easier access for the fire fighting crews, rather than have to break down doors.
There is also a worthwhile consideration of giving the HMO kitchen a deep clean every 6 months.
That is what they do at fire stns and the kitchen facilities there are used 24/7!
This lessons the risk of fire in a kitchen.

8:07 AM, 12th January 2012, About 12 years ago

Are you a member of a landlord association?  The majority of associations have good working relationships with agents specialising in landlord insurance who will offer members discounts.
Ruth Clarke
Cornwall Residential Landlords Association


13:09 PM, 25th January 2012, About 12 years ago

Thanks Ruth and Paul.  It was slightly tongue-in-cheek and fire safety is drilled into each tenant upon moving in and if I even smell a whiff of smoking!  The biggest risk is burning a pizza/sausages at 2am because the cook has gone to bed p****d after the pub - hence fire blankets.


10:00 AM, 9th February 2012, About 12 years ago

I'm afraid in my experience fire doors in common areas are rarely useful from a fire protection angle because the tenants just prop them open, usually (and ironically) with a fire extinguisher. It's easy to see why: the doors are heavy to pull open, especially if you're carrying something, and the characteristic squishing noise of the intumescent strips and the rush of air as the door opens and closes can become really irritating if you're sitting in a high-traffic area trying to enjoy a quiet meal, no matter how gently the self-closer is set.

Radiant heat detectors and smoke alarms in the kitchen and hall can also be the bane of tenants' lives if they are over-sensitive and go off every time a tenant slightly over-cooks something. As landlord you can make an inspection visit and sometimes find the body of the built-in smoke alarm and the backup battery have been removed and put on top of the fridge, which rather defeats the purpose. If alarms are made tamper-proof, this just adds to the tenants' frustration when they keep going off, so I've seen tenants cover them with duct tape or literally pull them off the ceiling, then attempt to hide the damage by sticking the detectors back on (disconnected) with double-sided sellotape. Yes, you can try relocating the detectors to see if this will reduce the incidence of false alarms, but it's amazing how you'll have no problems for years, and then a new tenant with attention deficit disorder as regards cooking will move in and they're all suddenly moaning about the fire alarms.

HMOs are safest, in my experience, when they are closest in feel to a normal domestic house and the tenants act as a houseshare, with regular meetings, shared responsibility for the bills, a cleaning rota, and a shared awareness of the fire risks. I try to encourage this myself by having meetings in which I raise the issue of fire safety, but I'm just the landlord and ultimately fire safety is about self-discipline by the tenants and their own enforcement actions. A tenant is far more likely to notice when a co-tenant removes the smoke alarm or props open the fire door, and their complaints, backed up by the other tenants, is far more likely to lead to a change in behaviour than anything said or done by the landlord.

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