Written by Nadine Kamalaneson

Since the Grenfell Tower fire, there have been increasing concerns over fire risk and building regulations in residential leasehold properties.

An independent review has been announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and it has already been concluded that a total of 181 cladding samples on high-rise buildings across England have failed fire safety tests. The number is expected to rise as more buildings owned by councils, housing associations and private landlords are tested.

Following Grenfell, the DCLG wrote to Local Authorities asking them to identify any use of ‘aluminium composite material’ cladding (ACM). All buildings tested thus far have failed fire safety tests.

Unsafe cladding is not the only concern raised with regards to the safety of high-rise buildings. The cladding tests in five buildings on the Chalcots estate owned by Camden Council led to evacuations because there were multiple fire safety inspection failures. There were problems with gas pipe insulation, some stairways were not accessible, there were breaches of internal walls, and hundreds of fire doors were missing.

Considerations for buyers, sellers and landlords

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the ‘Order’) consolidated previous legislation on fire safety. The Order sets out the fire safety regime for blocks of flats and buildings containing common parts for two or more dwellings.

It requires the carrying out of a fire risk assessment by the responsible person, or those in control of communal areas. For apartment blocks, this duty can fall on landlords, management companies, agents and building owners. They have a duty to ensure that a risk assessment is carried out to identify and mitigate potential hazards.

If you are buying a house or flat with communal areas then you need to make sure the fire risk assessment is checked, including identifying when the assessment was last updated. It must also be confirmed that it is in line with any new recommendations and that these have been or will be implemented. Landlords and management companies must plan to efficiently undertake assessments and implement recommendations.

Enquiries should also be made into whether there is a sprinkler or any other fire suppression system in place and whether smoke and carbon monoxide alarms have been fitted (they have been mandatory since October 2015). If the building has been refurbished, the fire risk assessment must also have been updated.

Recommendations and changes to building and fire regulations are currently under review. It is expected that the Government will produce a final report on current regulations in connection with the Grenfell Tower incident by spring 2018. New recommendations will follow.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.