It’s hard to forget those horrifying images that saturated our TV screens on 14 June 2017. Smoke and flames swallowing up a 24-story building. 250 fire fighters battling for over 60 hours. The death toll, rising every hour. 72 people lost their lives at Grenfell Tower.
Why? A simple electrical fault in a refrigerator on the fourth floor. Normally such a fault wouldn’t cause such destruction. However, the fire rapidly spread up the exterior of the building. Aided by the highly combustible aluminium composite cladding and external insulation that lined the walls, it only took 40 minutes for the fire to reach the roof of the tower.
Grenfell Tower – what have we learnt?
The tragedy shone a very bright light on the countless fire and safety hazards currently plaguing hundreds of residential buildings across England; hazards that residents had desperately been trying to draw attention to for years before the blaze.
In response to the inquiry that followed, the government has now published the new Fire Safety (England) Regulations. The Regulations put into action the recommendations of the inquiry to prevent fires in residential buildings, specifically high-rise buildings, in the future. They give clarity on who is responsible for the safety of residents.
What buildings do the regulations apply to?
The Regulations apply to all buildings in England that comprise two or more domestic premises (ie blocks of flats, student accommodation, shelter housing) including flats that are subject to a long lease or rented, and that contain common parts through which residents would need to evacuate in the case of an emergency. There are additional requirements for buildings that are over 11 metres tall and buildings 18 metres tall (or 7 storeys or more).
Who is a responsible person under the regulations?
There will be a ‘Responsible Person’ (RP) who the duties set out below are imposed upon. It will usually be the person who has control of the premises, ie the freeholder; the managing agents; or a residents’ management company. There may be more than one RP.
Could it be you?
Summary of the duties of the RP
General duty applying to all buildings.
To provide residents with relevant fire safety instructions including:
- how to evacuate the building
- how to report a fire
- any other instructions on what to do when there is a fire in the building.
Duties appliable to all residential buildings above 11m tall:
- To undertake quarterly checks on all communal fire doors in the building and to do annual checks on flat entrance doors.
Duties applicable to all residential buildings above 18m tall include (but are not limited to):
- Sharing information about the building’s external wall system and floor plans with the local fire and rescue
- Installing wayfinding signage which is visible in low light conditions
- Establishing a minimum of monthly checks on lifts and on essential pieces of firefighting equipment within the building.
Who enforces the regulations?
The responsibility to enforce the Regulations will usually be the local fire and rescue authority. Failure to comply with the Regulations is a criminal offence under the Fire Safety Order.
Shockingly, the architect of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment admitted he did not even read the building regulations and had no idea that the insulation used could be combustible.
Given the New Fire Safety (England) Regulations – what are the practical considerations?
- All RPs need to ensure that they have the resources, financial and practical, to ensure these duties are carried out in buildings under their control.
- Of course, there will be increased costs as a result of these duties, which may need to be passed on to the tenants by way of service charge.
- Additionally, freehold owners/landlords who hire managing agents will need to: ensure the managing agents employed understand the regulations; are aware if they are the RP of the building; are fulfilling the duties on them and have the resources to do so.
How Moore Barlow can help
Our talented team of commercial property solicitors can be with you every step of the way, whether you are taking on a lease or need help managing your commercial property. We can be by your side every step of the way, so that you feel that your investment is secure and that you have the right resources at your disposal. With our team trained in mediation and cooperative law, we can also easily solve any disputes you may be dealing with over commercial property, in addition to specialist advice and support.