3 August 2017 by

What can landlords learn from the Grenfell Fire?

The Grenfell Fire was a disaster that struck a chord with everyone, including those within the leasehold property sector who are managing or have dealings with blocks of flats on a day to day basis and assume at least some responsibility for fire safety.

Whilst the police have recently announced that they have “reasonable grounds” to proceed with corporate manslaughter charges, we have also learnt that residents within Grenfell Tower had actually raised their concerns about the building and potential risks of a fire before it happened.

It has been suggested that the residents’ concerns were ignored or perhaps not taken as seriously as they should have been.  Whether that was down to high workloads or day to day pressures which made dealing with such concerns unmanageable we just do not know.  However, what is clear is that those residents’ concerns were not addressed or dealt with.  If they were some believe it could have prevented such a tragedy from occurring.

In October 2006, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the FSO) came into force.  The FSO applies to non-domestic premises and is relevant here as it also applies to communal areas of apartment blocks.  The FSO provides for “responsible persons”, which will usually include Landlords, to ensure that certain checks and maintenance are carried out within the communal areas of a block in an attempt to prevent fire disasters.  These checks include carrying out a risk assessment and keeping it up to date.  The risk assessment should identify what steps need to be taken in order to minimise the risk of a fire.

One currently unanswered question at Grenfell is that even if the fire assessments were undertaken was any follow up work identified by any assessment carried out satisfactorily or at all.  As has been widely reported, the tenants of the block were raising fire concerns before the disaster happened.

What is clear is that following the disaster, now more than ever, Landlords need to ensure they undertake both the assessment and any remedial action necessary as a priority.

At the very least, failure to comply with the FSO could result in a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years depending on the offence.  Landlords and all responsible persons will need to ensure that they follow the FSO.

The Government have set out some guidance for fire safety in the workplace (which should also be considered by Landlords of blocks) which can be found at https://www.gov.uk/workplace-fire-safety-your-responsibilities.

The guidance includes a link to a 5-step checklist to assist with ensuring the following points are all dealt with by the risk assessment.  The assessment should:

  1. Identify fire hazards;
  2. Identify people at risk;
  3. Evaluate, remove or reduce the risks;
  4. Record the findings, prepare an emergency plan and provide training, and;
  5. Be reviewed and updated regularly

The guidance also gives further points to be considered when carrying out the fire risk assessment which include: –

  • emergency routes and exits
  • fire detection and warning systems
  • fire fighting equipment
  • the removal or safe storage of dangerous substances
  • an emergency fire evacuation plan
  • the needs of vulnerable people, for example the elderly, young children or those with disabilities
  • providing information to employees and other people on the premises
  • staff fire safety training

It is important to ensure not only that these assessments are kept up to date and reviewed on a regular basis but that landlords tell their leaseholders that this is happening and any necessary action is taking place.

This open communication, although it might seem onerous, will go along way to build up trust between all the parties involved with leasehold properties which as a result of Grenfell has for many taken a hit!

If you have any questions on fire safety or other property management matters please contact one of our solicitors in the Enfranchisement team here.

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