Who has legal liability for safety of premises?

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    Who has legal liability for safety of premises?

    Hi there,

    Would be grateful for some advice please.

    My husband and I are planning to rent our flat out, but we have a problem in that we have a balcony with an unsafe railing.

    The railing is made of wood, and is rotting away. It is also very low, about 40-50cm.

    There is one other balcony in the building (8 flats in the building). Ours is on the 3rd floor, the other balcony is on the raised ground floor. The other balcony is also made of timber, but in better condition than ours, and I think it is also higher.

    We have share of freehold, and can happily get permission from the other freeholders to change the railing to something more sensible.

    However, the problem is that we are in a conservation area, and I am concerned that the council will not give us permission to change it.

    I know I should speak to the council, but (cringe) I have a guilty conscience, because as soon as we moved in 4 years ago, we changed the windows (which were rotting away, falling off their hinges) without getting the council's permission. So I am trying to work out the best way of solving this problem without attracting attention from the council.

    [The reason we made the mistake with the windows is that neither of us is from the UK and it is our first purchase, so we didn't realise that we needed permission from the council until it was too late. We got permission from the other freeholders; the windows are in a similar style to what was there previously, in good quality timber, and from a FENSA registered provider etc.]

    Can anyone advise the best way to approach this?

    #2
    I would check whether you need approval in a Conservation Area to change like for like.

    From what you say, I don't believe that you needed approval to change the windows. You need to check.

    If that's correct then I would contact the Conservation officer for the area to find out whether you need consent to change the railings and to find out what is acceptable.

    Comment


      #3
      safety barrier, balcony

      The safety barrier needs to be 1100mms in height off the deck of the flooring finish. Important to use something that cannot be climbed by "rugrats" and of course the barrier needs to be able to withstand a hefty amount of lateral force so as to not fall outwards. Rebuild the wooden detailing to match the existing and if its easily climbable fix on the inside face some sheets of fine grillwork or pierced metal or even that old standby triple walled polycarbonate none of which will allow a toe hold to be gained.

      I had a similar situation in a premises in a conservation area and ended up raising the height of the safety barrier to modern standards by using marine grade stainless steel fixings secured into the masonry at the sides with resin bonded anchor bolts increasing the height of the barrier with 4mm stainless steel rope from a yacht chandlers tensioned with proprietory tighteners and the ends looped and "swaged". From the ground these steel ropes were invisible although they had more than sufficient strength. If in doubt err on the side of caution. Do a pukka job of it.

      Old -or fairly old saying : "Good health and safety means never having to say sorry"

      Comment


        #4
        Unsafe balcony - can I specify in contract to avoid?

        Hello,
        Not sure where is the right place to post this question - please redirect me if I'm in the wrong place.

        We are thinking about renting out our flat, which is on the 3rd floor of a Victorian building and which has a small balcony. The balcony railing is unsafe - it is wooden, in poor condition, and also only about 50cm high. The balcony is accessible through a french door which is lockable.

        I'm not sure whether we will be able to mend/replace the existing railing (we are in a conservation area, poss probs with freeholders), and so we're wondering whether we could insert a clause into the rental contract to say either that (a) the tenants are not permitted onto the balcony at all or (b) they are only permitted to access the balcony as a secondary means of fire escape.

        Does anyone know - would a clause like this cover us in the case of an accident?? Or would we still be considered liable if someone were to fall?

        Any advice appreciated
        thanks
        Confused1234

        Comment


          #5
          Providing you would not break fire regs by doing so, I would lock the door and not give tenants the key, I would also make sure the AST specifically excluded the balcony...

          The propery known as flat 7, Manor Towers, Anytown, AT1 2AA, not to include the balcony.

          Comment


            #6
            It seems however a waste of a good balcony (which could be an attractive feature of the property) to shut it off and just let it fall into decay. Apart from anything else, it would be good if the French windows were openable (i) for ventilation and (ii) as a fire escape.

            Can the balcony not be renovated and the railings brought up to a sensible height?

            I agree that it would be courting disaster to allow the use of it with the balcony only 50 cm high. How bizarre. No wonder so many Victorians died young!
            'Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation fo the first link on one memorable day'. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

            Comment


              #7
              I know nothing about leasehold properties, but wouldn't the exterior of the property be the freeholders responsibility?

              Comment


                #8
                Very often the balcony forms part of the property that the leaseholder is responsible for.....check your lease for confirmation.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Best to get advice from your insurance company; they will tell you if you are covered against any potential claim.

                  At the very least, prohibit use in the tenancy agreement, lock access, post a hazard awareness notice on the balcony and restrict access outside with the use of hazard tape /rope/ wood
                  All posts in good faith, but do not rely on them

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                  Comment


                    #10
                    I think its a big risk to let a property like this. In my opinion you have three options. Fix the problem, remove the balcony or make a more permanent structural change (such as bricking up/plasterbording over the French doors) to completely prevent access. Merely locking the doors is not a good solution as people will be able to see the balcony and want to use it. If someone manages to pick the lock and walk out onto the balcony and an accident occurred i am pretty sure they would at least try to blame you and whether or not a claim succeeded it would be a major headache. Imagine if that person was a teenager, or a guest who had not had sight of the rental agreement.

                    Personally, in this day and age, i think you would be leaving yourself wide open to being sued. Also if someone was to fall and injure/kill themselves would you be prepared to live with the knowledge that it could have been prevented?

                    The other issue is whether you would need the doors onto the balcony as a fire exit and also as MTG suggested, the balcony could be a selling point.

                    As a landlord, i feel that there are some things that you cant compromise on and number one has to be safety. If you were to repair the balcony you might get some tax relief on the cost so it might be a little less expensive than you think.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      In a conservation area, I suspect OP's major problem would be persuading the planners to let him change the design of the balcony so that it met modern safety standards. Presumably if he did this, it would risk being out of character with the period of the house and with the other balconies on the same elevation (or is it the only one?).

                      He would not be allowed to brick up the French windows (and rightly so, in my view).
                      'Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation fo the first link on one memorable day'. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

                      Comment


                        #12
                        This 'balcony' would not be the top of a bay window below would it? If it was then the only use for it would be as a plant pot repository, it would never be meant to be walked on. Maybe the Victorians had more faith in people's common sense than us 'New Elizabethans'.
                        I offer no guarantee that anything I say is correct. wysiwyg

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Originally posted by jta View Post
                          This 'balcony' would not be the top of a bay window below would it? If it was then the only use for it would be as a plant pot repository, it would never be meant to be walked on. Maybe the Victorians had more faith in people's common sense than us 'New Elizabethans'.
                          That is true, and I think you are probably right about its original function - although the pot plants would still have needed someone to be able to get out there to tend them (and thus be able to walk onto the balcony, if not necessarily hold a cocktail party on it).

                          Mind you, the average Victorian maid (i)weighed about half as much as an adult now, and (ii) lacked the protection afforded now by the Health and Safety at Work Act, so the prospect of the balcony collapsing probably didn't feature very prominently in the architect's consciousness.
                          'Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation fo the first link on one memorable day'. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Originally posted by Glenys1198 View Post
                            I would check whether you need approval in a Conservation Area to change like for like.

                            From what you say, I don't believe that you needed approval to change the windows. You need to check.
                            I have rarely been more sure that anyone on LLZ has been wrong about something!

                            In a conservation area you will almost certainly need permission to replace original windows, even if they are rotting. There will be approved styles for the type of house. You may be required to replace the ones you have put in with something more in character with the property. (Someone in our village did - it cost them a fortune in legal fees and new windows).

                            AND RIGHTLY SO!!!!!!!

                            This country is full of period properties which have been abused and hacked around by people with no aesthetic sense!

                            quarterday's solution for the balcony sounds interesting. Any chance of a photo of it, please?
                            'Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation fo the first link on one memorable day'. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by mind the gap View Post
                              I have rarely been more sure that anyone on LLZ has been wrong about something!

                              In a conservation area you will almost certainly need permission to replace original windows, even if they are rotting.
                              Not quite. Some authorities will give oral permission to replace windows in a conservation area, providing the contractor doing the work is FENSA registered. [Such a contractor would lose FENSA registration if the work was not an (apparently) identical replacement].

                              However FENSA registration doesn't cover balconies or railings - so OP would certainly have to talk to the authority about this.

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