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The importance of Fire Risk Assessments
The Grenfell Fire tragedy serves as an unwelcome reminder of the importance of taking our responsibilities as business owners, landlords and tenants seriously.
The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 became law in October 2006 and is not new. Yet frequently I hear that there is no Fire Risk Assessment in place for premises after premises and buyers are relatively unconcerned about the lack of availability, seeing it as a tick box exercise.
Whether we like it or not, the law is there to protect us collectively as well as individuals and it is important to take notice of its requirements. The Fire Authority are responsible for enforcement of the regulations but can also serve notices for improvements, alterations or prohibitions.
All commercial or non-domestic premises including any blocks of flats are required to have a Fire Risk Assessment in place. The person responsible for implementing this leaves themselves open to criminal prosecution if they do not comply. This can include:-
• Employers and
• Directors of Management Companies that own the freehold of the block of flats.
Sometimes the obligations can be on more than one person. For example, in the case of a shop with flats above, the tenant may be responsible for the shop whilst the landlord will be responsible for the common parts.
Even if you are not a ‘responsible person’ under the legislation, it is important that you make sure for yourself that an appropriate risk assessment is in place otherwise the buildings insurance policy may be vitiated. This could leave you without a premises to run your business or homeless with no means to reinstate the property. Whilst you may have a claim in damages against the Landlord or the Tenant for a breach of the lease (whoever was the responsible person) such claims are frequently worthless and would often far exceed the means of the offending party.
The optimum time to address this issue is on the purchase of the property, grant or assignment of a new lease. Make sure your conveyancers deal with the following questions:-
• Is there a Fire Risk Assessment in place? If so, make sure you see a copy and if there isn’t one available, ask them to obtain this before completion.
• Have any recommendations for remedial measures been implemented? If so, you want to see the evidence. If not, why not and have the insurance company been informed and confirmed that they will continue to insure the property regardless? Again, ask for evidence of this.
If you are the Landlord and you have agreed that the Tenant is to produce the Fire Risk Assessment, make sure the lease permits you to demand a copy. Moreover, adequate provisions should be included in the lease to require the Tenant to comply with legislation and in the event that they do not do so, you should reserve the right to enter the property to carry out any necessary remedial works and assessment at the Tenant’s Cost.
As a Tenant, it is also better for the risk assessment to be undertaken before completion. You will have a better idea as to cost implications. Most landlords undertaking remedial measures will seek to charge the cost of these back to you through the service charge provisions. You will be in a much stronger negotiating position, if the lease has not yet completed and you may be able to get the Landlord to do the works at their own cost.
Fire Risk Assessments can be completed by anyone but the legislation recommends you seek an expert to undertake this for you and as with any risk assessment it is crucial to keep it under review and amend when necessary.
Cheryl Smith is an Associate Solicitor in the Commercial Property department at Boyce Hatton LLP. You can contact Cheryl by emailing Cheryl.firstname.lastname@example.org or following her on Linkedin or Twitter @BoyceHatton_CS
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