Fire safety - thoughts for Private Blocks of Flats Landlords post Grenfell Point

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    Fire safety - thoughts for Private Blocks of Flats Landlords post Grenfell Point

    In the case of Grenfell Point the fire became a catastrophe, it would seem, because the cladding caught light and was not fire stopped between floors. It burnt like a torch.

    It may well prove to be the case that it is impossible to firestop external cladding panel type insulation adequately between floors.

    But what are the points for the private sector to take on, where external cladding is not an issue.


    Have occupiers been told to stay put or to make their exit?

    Does every common parts staircase have an interlinked or indeed any smoke alarms? Should we pre-empt tougher regulations and put in a mains panel with sensors/ sounders in all flats?

    What about the situation in older blocks of flats where the front doors and frames are demised to the leaseholders, but have no intumescent strips and cold seals? Where perhaps the doors have been replaced by leaseholders in attractive enough looking doors but which are not half hour resistant. Should they be forced to upgrade; so as to prevent a fire spreading and smoke filling common parts staircases. What if the door/frame contains glass; and said glass is part of the lessees' demise. If the glass is not pyro rated, should the block manager require it to be changed. To do so requires a willingness to make costly and hence, most likely unpopular demands; but nevertheless are these calls that the Block Manager or landlord is bound to make? To what extent is the manager/landlord culpable for failing to insist on all upgrades that a fire risk assessment might suggest?

    Can we please have a discussion in this forum on these issues.

    #2
    At present most block managers are required to conduct a "health and safety" check and cost provision is often seen in the service charge annual budget.

    So the managing agent checks the communal areas for closing of fire doors . correct operation of emergency lighting and for presence of asbestos, clutter free hall ways to escape in event of fire.

    Comment


      #3
      Personally I thought it was wise and sensible that this forum remained silent on the recent tragedy and consequences for landlords/leaseholders. But as you asked...

      You have raised important points which are of necessity specifics that only 'experts' who can offer their professional name and even liberty to answering purposefully(if found incorrect).

      All I would say as someone equally interested in getting fire safety right in small leasehold blocks (two storey) is that the issue is a minefield of costs versus legitimate need. Agents will charge huge sums annually for what appears to be cut and paste assessments while not discernibly managing even discarded flammable material in common hallways.

      As a lay person with no qualifications in fire safety (not sure managing agents have any either, mind), I have understood the situation per the Fire Safety Order 2005 and other guidance to be that leaseholders are the 'responsible persons' within their own demise and the landlord is the responsible person for communal parts. This is a legally important definition, no?

      On the perhaps naive assumption that no landlord/agent/RMC/RTM would grant consent to alter fire safety landlord fittings and fixtures, such as removing original building regs required internal fire doors or fire stopping around service ducts etc, the lessee would be legally liable if they removed their own fire doors.

      I don't see the landlord's current power to act other than internal inspections and pursuing breach of lease action. Is this reasonable in all blocks? Maybe landlords will be advised to act this way for all leasehold?

      Unless landlords start forcing entry to inspect all demises, how would the landlord know about removed internal fire doors, other than writing to remind all lessees not to breach their lease on these matters?

      As I further understand it, fire standards are not at present retro-required. We do not have intumescent strip fire doors, but they are fire retardant doors with self closers fitted. Unless the law gives the landlord the right to insist a lessee upgrades their own front door, I can't see the present power to order it? I also can't as things stand see how the landlord could force it, AND charge to the communal service charge?

      Same with your comment about a means panel linked to detectors within all flats. Where is the legal power to work inside demised flats let alone charge for these improvements?

      I realise leasehold is diminished on a constant basis to 'mere tenant' but this is one area which proves there is a legal difference.

      The catch 22 is that the sincerely concerned landlord may want to do improvements (such as upgrading things to better standards) but leases are often clear on maintaining and repairing what already exists. If however a concerned landlord wants to pay for improvements themselves from their profits from ground rents and lease extensions etc, I would imagine flat owners would be happy to consider such improvements.

      There are many things a concerned landlord/agent should be doing as things stand: removing exterior cladding (we had an agent that tried to force us to agree to cladding and I am happy to say we told them to b***** off), checking all fire stopping and boxing in communal parts is in place, insisting their residential management staff actually read the fire safety order and the 192 page 2011 Local Government Group guidance on fire safety in purpose built blocks, and don't just pretend they know what they are doing, carrying out routine site inspections (as already expected under the fire order) under their management contract that are not full formal risk assessments that simply incur more profit and is merely filed away, routinely clearing flammable rubbish, removing any random furniture or trip mats or pictures in hallways etc, making sure the door closers work properly and that all communal area fire doors are correct and close properly, ensuring any fire equipment that was fitted at build still works, and ensuring any cat flaps fitted to front doors into communal hallways are replaced with the original complete fire retardant door.

      Anything that involves forcibly entering demises to fit extra bits and pieces will, I expect, need legal changes and I also suspect it will still be 'horses for courses' given there are two storey blocks, low rises up to four floors and high rises up to obscenely reckless heights that fire ladders cannot reach.

      I may be wrong, but I can't see the renewed fire safety regs being a one-size-fits-all but I am sure there will be landlords who want to fit the most expensive and comprehensive solutions and charge for this whatever the block type.

      Seems to me fire safety has been used since 2005 often as a nice little earner for expensive risk annual assessments that bear no relation to any actual fire safety management.

      I'm assuming things are going to change.

      What stands out to me is all those leaseholders in these tower blocks who have paid five figure sums for major works for refurbishment that made them less safe? It seems to this layperson anyway it would need an eejit to decide to fit flammable material around concrete blocks, or to remove fire doors in high rises etc because of the expense?

      What powers did the leaseholders in tower blocks (or anywhere else) have in what was done around their homes?

      Some expert opinion will have to change such as in the above LGG 2011:


      11.2 There is no evidence from fire statistics to suggest that those living in purpose-built blocks of flats are at greater danger from fire, once it breaks out, than those who live in houses."

      Funnily enough, the 2011 binding guidance also says:

      85.2 Processes should be in place for landlords and other responsible persons to scrutinise alterations and building work within common parts that could have an effect on fire safety in the block.

      Anyone offer any evidence of 'processes in place' for lessees (the other responsible persons) to scrutinise alterations in common parts?

      What does 'scrutinise' mean in practise? A s20 notice to pay up or be forfeited?

      The whole situation is broken. Make more profit seems to be the priority.
      Do not read my offerings, based purely on my research or experience as a lessee, as legal advice. If you need legal advice please see a solicitor.

      Comment


        #4
        the fire risk assessment will usually incorporated recommendations but the property manager is unlikely to implement all.

        The point about non half hour fire check front doors is that they were not required in older blocks but would improve safety if present today.

        In the case of Grenfell Towers shamefully the smoke/sounders in the common parts were not apparently working at the time but these should be found in all common parts to a minimum standard. Before too long I expect the regulations will be upgraded such that there must be a fire panel and integrated system with sensors throughout retrofitted in every block.

        Comment


          #5
          I have a slightly different situation. My let house is effectively 4-storey, as there is a garage below and then 3 floors of accommodation above.

          The main stairway is the 'protected escape route' and is protected by means of fire rated doors at every door off the stairway. There are also smoke detectors on the two upper landings although these are battery operated and not interconnected.

          Also of note is that the fire door closers are currently disabled as the current building regs do not require them although they were a requirement when the house was built.

          I intend to write to my tenant reinforcing the constructional details of the house and pointing out the need to maintain the protected escape route including closing the doors off the stairway particularly at night. Also the need to regularly test and replace batteries in the smoke alarms.

          Any comments on this course of action?

          Comment


            #6
            If any one suggests fire alarms to me, the answer is a firm no...

            About 6 years ago in a block that is all BTL, we LLs agreed to fit an interlinked fire alarm, sensors and sounders in every flat (got council EO to specify the system to ensure it would meet any regs). Fire doors, fancy hinges and intumescent strips on the flat doors.

            Result ~£25 pcm maintenance charges - won't make that mistake again.

            Comment


              #7
              Firstly, the Bible on fire safety in older blocks of purpose built flats, in the UK, is https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/defau...-built-04b.pdf.

              Secondly, if the block is purpose built, at least for 1960s onwards ones, and its original fire safety design hasn't been compromised, it will have a stay put policy. If it has a stay put policy, the presence of smoke alarms in the communal areas is strongly discouraged (see page 67 of the above PDF). If smoke detectors exist at all, they will not sound an alarm, but simply trigger smoke ventilation arrangements designed to clear smoke from the stairway. The problems with communal alarms, is they get ignored, because of false alarms, and if not ignored, encourage residents to leave the relative safety of a flat for a smoke filled stairwell. I would be surprised if Grenfell Tower was supposed to have any alarms that sounded in the communal areas; it would be most unusual. I think the press has said things without properly understanding the situation.

              On the other hand, if the building needs a simultaneous evacuation policy and contains multiple households (HMO or flat conversions, typically), having a professionally installed and maintained communal area fire alarm will not be an optional decision, based on cost. If you need it, you will need to install and maintain it. There will probably also need to be arrangements in place to know who was in the block and account for them after they escape.

              If you don't know whether there is a stay put policy, you must find out, as you have a duty to make sure that your tenants understand what to do in a fire, and you cannot fulfil that duty, if you don't know the answer to the question. The block management is failing in their duty if they haven't told you, anyway. If they say that there isn't a stay put policy and the block appears to be purpose built and post-1960, you need to find out a lot more. Either they just don't have the competence to carry out the risk assessment, or there are serious fire safety defects in the building. In the latter case, you need to check for remedial measures, like professionally installed alarms systems, and to ensure that your tenants are properly educated in the fire safety of the building. Note there should be a notice, in any communal stairwell, saying what the policy is (a Fire Action notice). Not having one would, itself, be a breach.

              Regarding grandfathering of fire doors. The position the authorities take is that some things cannot be grandfathered. Rising butt hinges on doors to stairwells must be replaced by proper closers (as must no closer at all). You will be judged under housing health and safety law, or fire safety law, not under building regulations. Retro-fitting of intumescent strips and smoke seals will not normally be required on low rise blocks, although our fire risk assessment advised them as a long term aim; if someone asks permission to replace an entrance door, that should be made conditional on using a purpose designed fire door assembly.

              (The guidance in the document in my first paragraph, for doors opening directly onto stairs, is: up to four storeys, seals are optional, except for new doors; five or six storeys, add seals to old doors; seven or more, replace old doors with a fully compliant ones.)

              If the head leaseholder has installed an unsuitable entrance door, or refuses to comply with improvements, as well as any breach of the lease, both the freeholder and the leaseholder will be committing offences under the Fire Safety (Regulatory Reform) Regulations. See appendix 13 in the document mentioned in the first paragraph for an example of how the freeholder could handle this.

              I think even quite old head leases give a right to inspect the flat, and a right of entry to do work needed that affects communal services. (Unfortunately, I think too many landlords fail to include all the terms derived from the head lease into their tenancy agreements, and can therefore be left in a position where they have a responsibility that they can't fulfill.) However, in the case of the boundary with the communal areas, including entrance doors, there is a legal duty to cooperate with the freeholder, so the authorities can be brought in under either the Housing Act of the Fire Safety Regulations. My lease also has a provision that the leaseholder must comply with requirements of national and local legislation, so there would be a breach of the lease.

              The four storey house, mentioned, appears to be a single family residence, so not relevant to the discussion of flats. If it is not single family, it will be a high risk HMO and need very stringent fire precautions. (I think the requirement for closers on higher houses was probably removed, not because they were bad for fire safety, but because they were unenforceable, with too many owners disabling them the moment the building control inspector signed off. This assumes the garage does not open onto the stairwell, as that always requires a closer)

              However, unless there is no living accommodation on the first floor (the garage being the ground floor), as a rented property, the landlord is in breach of the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Regulations 2015, which require at least one smoke alarm on every storey, of a rented property, that contains living accommodation. See https://www.gov.uk/government/public...ds-and-tenants.

              Regarding the duty of freeholders. Any freeholder of a property that has communal areas, legally bound to carry out a fire risk assessment, and periodically review it, so it more than "most". This is because the communal areas are treated as business premises.

              Also, note that, as landlords, you have a fire safety duty for the whole of your flat. You need to take account of both the nature of your tenants, and the de facto precautions in the rest of the block, in fulfilling this duty.

              Comment


                #8
                Hi

                Excellent post leaseholder64.

                Your link to the Local Government Group 2011 guidance is useful but isn't there a distinction somewhere about pre 1992 Building Regs?

                Our RTM manages a combination of leasehold blocks: some two flat blocks (one up/one down) with private entrances and some four flat blocks with communal hallways (two up/two down). The blocks were purpose built in the 1980s. I found/read various guides as well as the HSE template risk assessments...

                1. The Local Government Group 2011 guidance for purpose built blocks
                2. The DCLG Sleeping Accommodation guidance 2006
                3. The LACORS “Housing – Fire Safety: Guidance on fire safety provisions for certain types of existing housing" 2008
                4. The LACORS update 2009.

                Things of interest to get simple answers to were:

                Escape windows not built in (just normal windows) - problem or no?
                Emergency lighting not provided - needed or no?
                Exit signs to one hallway exit - needed or no?
                Smoke detectors/alarms in halls - needed or no?
                Fire fighting equipment in halls - needed or no?
                Fire doors and closers - needed or no?
                Keyless final escape door - needed or no?


                The Local Government Group 2011 guidance for purpose built blocks applies only to England, but that covers us. It says:

                "3.9 This guide applies to purpose-built blocks of flats regardless of the tenure of the flats (ie whether owner-occupied, social housing or private rented sector). "


                "4 Intended readership
                [...]
                • residents’ management companies
                • ‘Right to Manage’ companies
                • managing agents or facility managers
                [...]
                • consultants and contractors carrying out fire risk assessments.


                "5. Relationship to other guidance

                "5.1 [...] It builds on the advice given in the DCLG Sleeping accommodation guide mentioned earlier. That guide applies generically to all premises in which people sleep, but, for purpose built blocks of flats, this guide is likely to be the more appropriate one to use."


                5.2 Certain blocks of flats are also included within the scope of the LACoRS guide ‘Housing – fire safety: guidance on fire safety provisions for certain types of existing housing’. However, the blocks addressed in that document comprise purpose-built blocks and conversions that, in either case, do not meet the standards applied under the Building Regulations since 1992.

                5.3 This present guide covers all purpose-built blocks of flats (both common parts and the flats themselves), including those within the scope of the DCLG and LACoRS guides. It is, therefore, the more appropriate guide to use for purpose-built blocks of flats.


                Unravelling all this, RTMCos are listed in the LGG guide 2011 but the 1992 BRs cut-off affects us, so returning to the LACORS guidance:

                "2.1 This fire safety guide is intended for buildings which have been constructed or adapted for use as domestic dwellings, and covers a range of existing residential premises including:

                • purpose-built flats and buildings converted into self- contained flats to a standard not in compliance with the Building Regulations 1991;


                2.2 It should be noted that the guidance applies to the above types of premises regardless of tenure (i.e. whether owner-occupied, social housing or private rented sector).

                2.3 This guidance does not apply to properties constructed or converted to a standard in compliance with the Building Regulations 1991 or later (and which still comply)..."

                Given our blocks were built in 1980s we presumably come under the LACORS 2008/9 guide rather than the 'more appropriate' LGG 2011 guide?

                Leaseholders are listed. Agents are mentioned. No mention of RTM companies as in the 2011 guide? RTMCos have existed since 2002/3. Was this an oversight?

                The LACORS guide refers to:

                "7.6 ...Blocks of flats which were constructed or converted in compliance with the Building Regulations 1991, approved document B or equivalent may adopt a different approach such as ‘stay-put’ as the level of compartmentation means there will be a low risk of fire spreading beyond its unit of origin."

                So, we ought not to have a 'different approach' such as a Stay Put policy?

                And all this before comparing where the two guides are different if at all!
                Do not read my offerings, based purely on my research or experience as a lessee, as legal advice. If you need legal advice please see a solicitor.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by leaseholder64 View Post

                  The four storey house, mentioned, appears to be a single family residence, so not relevant to the discussion of flats. If it is not single family, it will be a high risk HMO and need very stringent fire precautions. (I think the requirement for closers on higher houses was probably removed, not because they were bad for fire safety, but because they were unenforceable, with too many owners disabling them the moment the building control inspector signed off. This assumes the garage does not open onto the stairwell, as that always requires a closer)

                  However, unless there is no living accommodation on the first floor (the garage being the ground floor), as a rented property, the landlord is in breach of the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm Regulations 2015, which require at least one smoke alarm on every storey, of a rented property, that contains living accommodation. See https://www.gov.uk/government/public...ds-and-tenants.
                  Thanks for that lh64 very informative.
                  I need to add a further smoke alarm and prove testing of all of them at each new tenancy. I think it may be wise to replace the others too as I have no idea how old they are. It would have been good if my letting agent had informed us of a change in the law...
                  A CO alarm is not required as there are no solid fuel burning appliances.
                  (I may add one to the garage, it is totally separate with no interconnecting door, as that is the location of the gas fired boiler although it is room sealed and inspected every year by the gasman as required by the law. However I wouldn't want any car exhaust fumes to set it off randomly!)

                  Comment


                    #10
                    My reading of the 2011 document is that it has no 1991 cutoff. Clues to support that are the cover photograph and references to 1960's construction techniques, together with references to notional fire doors (ones that complied at the time of construction). What is doesn't cover, in any way, is conversions.

                    Based mainly on our risk assessment, which was actually done by the consultancy that produced the 2011 document, although during its drafting stages, and an early 70's block,together with a more complete reading of the 2011 document, I would say:
                    • Escape windows: normal building regulations rules apply, i.e. window replacements should not make things worse - in any case not normally a freeholder responsibility and not useful for three or more storey blocks.
                    • Emergency lighting: required, but only if there is insufficient borrowed light.
                    • Exit signs: only if the exit is not the way people would have entered the building.
                    • Smoke detectors in communal areas: only if stay put is not viable (or as part of smoke control systems)
                    • (Smoke detectors in halls of flats: advise leaseholders, but not a freeholder responsibility)
                    • Fire fighting equipment in communal areas: no - requires trained personnel and encourages opening doors
                    • Fire rated closers: required. Rising butts not allowed. Seals required if more than four storeys
                    • Fire doors: must be in good condition and intended as fire door, unless more than six storeys, in which case need to be replaced. Subsequent replacements, must be to the latest standard, not like for like.
                    • Keyless final escape: yes.


                    However, there always has to be the caveat that one must take into account any special local circumstances.

                    Our risk assessment did actually call for door seals on a fire door that was completely under the control of the freeholder.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Hi everyone. This is my first post on this forum.
                      I have read this topic and have a question regarding property management responsibilities regarding fire safety in a leashold block of flats. Shortly after Grenfell disaster I decided to take the liberty of checking the condition of cupboards on my floor and discovered they are full of rubbish left by contractors send by management to do various works. I also dug up some old letter to residents asking us to clean up this mess (!!!) or we would be charged for cleaning. None of this has ever happenned, so I decided to remove this rubbish myself, but only from cupboards at my floor. My question is can I ask some local authorities e.g. firemen to do a spot check of our property and point out any fire safety breaches to management? Any advise is appreciated.
                      Btw English is not my first language, so apologies for any errors while posting.

                      Comment


                        #12
                        There are two possible enforcement authorities, but both are under-resourced, as the result of government spending cuts over many years.

                        Firstly you could report it to the local fire brigade. In principle they will schedule an audit (which is probably what is actually happening on the tower blocks at the moment), but my experience is, if you are in a normal risk property, that could take years. They would then enforce under the Fire Safety (Regulatory Reform) Order 2005.

                        Secondly, the council has enforcement powers against fire hazards in common areas, as long as they pose a threat to people living in at least one of the flats. It is not clear how they would actually act in that case. I don't think they would do a complete audit, but they should be able to take enforcement action against specific issues notified to them. It would be done based on powers in the Housing Act 2004. Finding the right department in a council may be difficult.

                        I think the difference, with an audit, would be that the fire brigade would look at the fire risk assessment. Decide if it was valid, and make some checks on compliance, rather than just dealing with a specific issue.

                        Unfortunately, the Reform in Regulatory Reform,really means delegating responsibility to the freeholder, to move costs from the public to the private sector. Being able to get a spot check and report made a short notice would defeat the aim of the policy as people would rely on the public authorities to do their fire risk assessments.

                        Incidentally, it should have been difficult for you to check the cupboards, as they should have been locked (although the locks only need to provide token security, and keys might be easily obtainable).

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Hi, seems to me your first hurdle is proving what you say - i.e. that contractors employed by the landlord or agent left the rubbish (happens to us with building rubble left on grounds, but we act asap). If it is clear the rubbish was not left by residents doing things in their flats, then I would have thought a competent agent was failing in their job not requiring their contractors to clear up after themselves with a timely post job site inspection (but I have yet to experience a competent leasehold managing agent who keeps on top of their remit).

                          You say you have an 'old' letter ordering residents to clear it up? How old? If a competent managing agent thought hazardous rubbish had been left in communal areas and cupboards (by anybody) and actually put this matter to pen but then failed to act within their powers to remove and charge for the action within a reasonable time scale, they are a shower and living down to their "profession".

                          If there was a fire, that letter would be a paper trail of liability in my opinion. Never throw stones from a glass castle. You don't say whether the landlord is a leaseholder company or who sent the letter: an agent still in place or some previous agent?

                          I would take photos that identify the waste material and any indications on the stuff as to its source. I would send these photos by email attachment to the management and point out they are failing in their duties to review and act upon fire risk assessments in the communal parts.

                          If you can't prove the culprits, then I expect the charge for clearance will end up on the service charge. If you fear the management's cost, why not work with neighbours and hire a skip for an afternoon and chuck the stuff out yourselves (and add any abandoned Citroen CVs while at it)? You won't be covered by H&S of course if you do your backs in or if it is toxic. Only you know what the stuff is.

                          Edit: You don't say how many floors? If you are a tower block (or any kind of high rise), send the photos to the local press and have them round in a jiffy. Who knows, the government might then pay for the clearance.
                          Do not read my offerings, based purely on my research or experience as a lessee, as legal advice. If you need legal advice please see a solicitor.

                          Comment

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