Communal Cupboard Use

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    Communal Cupboard Use

    Hi all,

    There is a large communal cupboard in my block of 3 flats (one of which i own leasehold) which contains the electricity meters and the bike storage. I also store a few suitcases in here but have recently been told by my service provider to remove the personal belongings in that cupboard under the threat of a tort notice.

    The cupboard was designated in the plans that the lease refers to as bike storage and I had written not from the developer saying I could use it as storage. There is nothing in the lease about using this area for strorage.

    I am thinking that I should try and get the developer or the service charge provider to enclose the electricity meters in a fireproof cupboard so bikes and other stuff can be stored in there, but am no expert on the matter so was wanting some advice.

    Thanks in advance

    #2
    Please confirm what you mean by "service provider".

    Comment


      #3
      The managing agent I pay the service charge to!

      Comment


        #4
        No sensible freeholder would allow suitcases in such an area. You are lucky that the lease even gives you a right to use it for bicycles.

        To even consider its use for general storage, it would need locked fire doors on the cupboard.

        Any work to allow the storage of items with non-trivial or unknown fire risks, when they are not explicitly permitted in the lease, are unlikely to covered by the service charge, so you should expect to have to pay for the work personally.

        I'm glad to see that the building manager is actually fulfilling their duties.

        Although it seems your lease explicitly allows bicycles, the general rule for dispensations to leases in such areas is what is stored must be of very low fire risk, must not cause an obstruction and there must be no reasonable alternative. A reasonable alternative for suitcases is the flat itself. Not having space is not really having no reasonable alternative.

        Comment


          #5
          Assuming there are no statutory regulations which apply, if you have been given permission by the landlord that should be an end of the matter. If you still have the written permission send a copy to the managing agent - see further below.

          There may though be regulations about what should not be stored in a cupboard containing meters. If you are in breach of those regulations then your belongings should be removed. Hopefuly someone else more knowledgeable on this point will be able to confirm the position one way or the other.

          Write a letter to the managing agents saying:

          I was given permission by [insert name] to store items in the cupboard. [If you still have the letter add:] I enclose a copy.

          I have taken legal advice and been advised as follows:

          Section 12 and Schedule 1 of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 does not apply because the items stored are not in your possession or under your control and you are not a bailee.

          If you remove my belongings without my consent it may be considered theft having regard to sections 1(1) and 6(1) of the Theft Act 1968.

          Comment


            #6
            Originally posted by Lawcruncher View Post
            Assuming there are no statutory regulations which apply, if you have been given permission by the landlord that should be an end of the matter.
            Surely even if permission has been given in the past it can be withdrawn now (although I expect that would depend on precisely what was said when the permission was given)?

            If the OP can prove that permission was given it might mean that they need to be given sufficient notice that the permission is being withdraw, but I can't see that they can expect to always use the cupboard as storage.
            I'm also curious about what the situation would be if permission had not been given, but could be implied because the use of the cupboard for storage was ignored for years - but that's a different question!

            Comment


              #7
              Like most safety issues, there aren't specific regulations.

              What is required is to take steps to prevent fire, and that means keeping ignition sources away from flammable material, and an electrical cupboard will generally be interpreted as an ignition source, and a suitcase of unknown contents as combustible material.

              The other requirement is to protect the means of escape. In practice, that means putting a fire door between flammable material and communal stairwells and corridors.

              Avoiding ignition sources may also imply making it lockable.

              If the freeholder has given you a licence, you aren't in the wrong from a civil point of view, but if the licence gives you carte blanche, the freeholder is almost certainly failing to fulfil their duties under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order. The licence to store arbitrary material should certainly feature in their fire risk assessment. It would be very unwise for the freeholder not to reserve the right to revoke the licence.

              Although the legislation only imposes general duties, there are guidance documents which would generally indicate when the manager was taking adequate steps. The one for purpose built flats is "Fire safety in purpose-built blocks of flats". Section 44 has a long discussion on storage in communal areas. In particular it advises not giving licences unless compliance is going to be actively policed, and, that, if there is no fire separation between the storage and escape routes, things should only be stored in metal cabinets.

              (If you are in London, and look at storage rooms, even locked ones, in tube stations, you will see licence documents which list in fairly explicit details what is actually allowed.)

              In the current circumstances, the manager should be insisting that the freeholder revoke the licence. If the freeholder is unable to revoke the licence, they should be paying for fire safety upgrades out of their own pocket, although possibly asking the OP to refund them voluntarily.

              Once the licence is revoked, the manager needs to enforce the fire safety policy, and doing so may require quite urgent measures to remove the risk. If they can't at least remove the items and charge you for storage, they may need to get an urgent injunction, which you are likely to have to pay for. Remember they are at risk of criminal prosecution, even though, in reality, that would only happen after a serious incident. I think it is normally understood that the Interference with Good Act applies in this case, but it may well not have been tested in court. If it doesn't apply, unauthorised storage in communal areas is such common problem, and one that is often raised after major fires, that there really needs to be legislation to allow the building manager to resolve safety issues, without the time and expense of a court injunction.

              Basically, I would say the freeholder made a mistake by giving blanket permission, in the first place.

              Comment


                #8
                Thank you all for your interesting advice and guidance.

                Just realized that since it is a new build (2015), the developer was obliged by London law to provide bike storage and they put this storage in the cupboard!

                So think it is their responsibility to fireproof electricity stuff!

                Comment


                  #9
                  Bicycles are low fire risk items. It is your suitcases that would be considered a problem. When people store suitcases, they tend to fill them with all sorts of things.

                  I'm surprised a new build doesn't require fire resistant electrical cupboards.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Originally posted by leaseholder64 View Post
                    Bicycles are low fire risk items. It is your suitcases that would be considered a problem. When people store suitcases, they tend to fill them with all sorts of things.

                    I'm surprised a new build doesn't require fire resistant electrical cupboards.
                    When I was buying the property the developer said they would enclose the electricity storage cupboard, so it could be used as normal storage for leaseholders as well as bike storage: I have this in an email.

                    Does anyone know if the developer was therefore not fulfilling their responsibility?

                    Comment


                      #11
                      If you signed the original lease, after this promise, the lease would override it, although I suppose there might be some case for misleading advertising.

                      Comment

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