Building safety and repairing obligations during the lockdown and beyond

05 May 2020

Given reports that the Grenfell Tower Inquiry could resume via video conferencing, along with the Government’s recently published guidance urging ongoing compliance with building safety standards and setting out rules for access and repairs, now might be an opportune time for high rise building owners and managers to revisit the core recommendations of phase 1 of the Grenfell Inquiry which was published last autumn.

What were the recommendations of phase 1 of the Report?

The core recommendations included:

  • requiring building owners to draw up and keep under review a building evacuation plan
  • for all high rise buildings over 18 metres in height to be equipped with facilities and a clear evacuation process put in place for residents 
  • for owners and managers to be required by law to have personal evacuation plans for vulnerable residents
  • an urgent inspection of all fire doors in all buildings containing separate dwellings i.e. a blocks of flats
  • a requirement to check self-closing doors every three months
  • a requirement to regularly inspect lifts in high rise buildings; and
  • requiring landlords to provide signage that is visible in low lighting or smoky conditions and in a language that all residents can understand.

It should be remembered that the Government’s response to the phase 1 recommendations was largely positive in the sense that it expects building owners and landlords to implement these recommendations – and as soon practicable.

In addition, it is very likely that the Government will also expect the recommendations to apply to buildings of only 11 metres in height thereby ensuring that more buildings are covered by the recommendations made.

So what should building owners, including Registered Providers, be doing now?

They should be reviewing the type of alarm activation system deployed in all high rise buildings they own or manage, including buildings higher than 11 metres in height.

They should be preparing a Fire Door Inspection Plan for each of the high rise buildings they own or manage.

An inspection of Fire Doors and lifts in those buildings needs to be undertaken and repeated every three months. At the same time, self–closing door mechanisms in these buildings should be checked every three months. Again, they should include all buildings of 11 metres and higher in their inspection plan.

Consider the retrofitting of water sprinklers in the communal parts of buildings and in some cases, also within individual flats contained in buildings of 11 metres and higher. Such a measure is likely to be costly and inconvenient for tenants, but may well save lives.

The instalment of building and fire safety information boxes and visible signage in high rise buildings you own and manage should be a priority.

Clearly, projects like fire door checks and installing new alarm activation systems (and even the retrofitting of water sprinklers) will require significant investment, especially if you include high rise buildings of only 11 metres or more in your cost budget.

That said, ensuring safe housing conditions, including complying with your regular day-to-day repairing and maintenance obligations remains an important and ongoing responsibility - even during such unprecedented times.

If you have any questions or require advice on any aspect of this article, please contact Ian Rattenbury or Jonathan Parker or another member of the Social Housing Team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at May 2020.