The Minister of Infrastructure has drafted an amendment to fire safety regulations in Iceland. The changes are meant to ensure more people have their actual residence registered correctly and make it easier for authorities to enter housing where fire prevention measures may be inadequate.
In June 2020, a fire at Bræðraborgarstígur 1 in Reykajvík claimed three lives, the deadliest fire in Iceland’s recent history. The house had previously been the subject of media attention for its unsafe living conditions. It was owned by an Icelandic company that rented the rooms mostly to migrant workers. There were reports that 73 people were registered as living in the house (though the actual number was lower).
The tragic fire spurred an official investigation into housing conditions in Iceland that found that in 2021, between 5,000 and 7,000 people in the country were living in properties that had been classified as commercial or industrial buildings and not residential buildings. Fire safety requirements differ between residential, commercial, and industrial housing and those living in non-residential buildings are often not sufficiently protected from the risk of fire. In many cases, the unregistered and inadequate housing is provided to temporary workers by their employer, also putting workers at risk of homelessness if they lose their job.
Under current Icelandic legislation, it is illegal to register one’s residence on commercial or industrial premises except in exceptional cases. This means there is no official information on exactly how many people live in such housing and where, which can create danger in the event of natural disasters and complicate the work of first responders. Icelandic law also does not put a limit on the number of people that can be registered at each residence, which is why 73 people were allegedly registered at Bræðraborgarstígur 1, despite fewer actually living there.
Proposed changes to increase safety
The proposed amendments would make it possible to limit the number of people who register their primary address in each home. They would also permit people to temporarily register their home address in commercial or industrial buildings as well as loosen the requirements for housing benefits to encourage people to correctly register their home address. It would also ensure that authorities had the legal authority to access housing where fire safety was inadequate. Current law permits firefighters to inspect commercial and industrial housing to ensure fire safety measures are in place, but not private homes.