Living above a business

If you are the responsible person for a business that also provides living accommodation, you have the responsibility of keeping people sleeping at those premises safe from fire. Fire safety legislation is in place for sleeping accommodation above a business and fire detection MUST be in place. Our firefighters have attended a number of fires at businesses, such as fast food outlets, pubs, takeaways, cafes and restaurants, where people were sleeping at the premises.

The types of fires often result in significant financial loss, but there is also a high risk of injury or death if fire safety is not sufficiently addressed and then, if negligence is found, a prosecution that could result in a substantial fine or imprisonment.

One of the most common finds at these fires is that the accommodation is accessed by a single unprotected staircase from the main public or kitchen area of the building. This type of escape route is not acceptable and is a risk to life.

Did you know?

60 minute protection floors, ceilings and walls from commercial to residential is a requirement - that means if you live in a flat above commercial premises, it should be able to hold back the fire for 60 minutes before fire spreads to your accommodation. Often through inspections, we find exit routes blocked with excess stock items, rubbish or cleaning materials.

Fire doors and escape routes really matter

Structurally speaking, flats or maisonettes within a building should have an access route that is not through the commercial premises.
It is important that there are appropriate fire doors in use. That means, if there is a shared access, fire doors should separate commercial units and people’s homes. These doors should be certified fire doors and should be kept closed - not propped open for extra ventilation or storage. Your neighbours should not store rubbish or supplies in your access or escape route.

What must I do, am I responsible for putting legislation in place?

If you own or manage the premises then this is your responsibility. The Fire Safety Order 2005 makes you responsible for taking steps to protect the people using your premises from the risk of fire. Check your tenancy agreement to see if it states who is responsible for fire safety within the building.

  1. Carry out a fire risk assessment.

  2. If necessary, improve your fire safety measures.

  3. Keep the risks and your fire safety measures under review.

Reducing the dangers

  • Fit an interlinked smoke alarm to provide early warning of fire throughout the building including the sleeping accommodation.

  • Ensure you have at least 60 minutes of fire protection between the floors.

  • Keep escape routes clear of flammable, combustible material and other obstructions. This includes items like bikes, plants, chairs and side tables.

  • Never wedge open fire doors or remove door closing devices, fire doors only protect you if they are kept closed.

  • Protect/separate staircases with fire resisting construction to ensure your exit route is safe.

Reducing fire spread between shops and flats

A problem we often see in flats above commercial premises is a lack of fire detection and a means to stop fire spreading from the business below. This means that fire can spread easily between different areas of the building. 

Gaps and holes

Typically between the stairs and the commercial premises. A fire in the commercial premises can allow smoke and the products of combustion to enter the staircase and stop people escaping from the fire. It is important to look out for the following:

  • Damaged walls from the staircase to the commercial premises - look out for holes or large cracks.

  • Ill-fitting or damaged doors in the wall from the commercial premises to the staircase.

  • Holes in the floors exposing the premises beneath.

Residential entrance through the commercial premises

If a flat or bedsit is accessed through the commercial premises fire can spread very quickly from one area to another and you may have no way to escape.


Ducting from the commercial premises running through a flat or bedsit can be dangerous too. A fire in the commercial premises ducting can allow fire to spread and heat to build up in the ducting which could ignite items close by in your flat or bedsit. If the ducting is properly maintained and kept clean, this is not something to worry about. You should look out for the following:

  • A strong smell of cooking, or hot fat and oil.

  • Unexplained hot areas on walls, floors and in your cupboards.

  • Smoke coming from strange places in your flat.

Last updated: Thursday, 22 June 2023