The limited impact of the new Fire Safety Bill


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Amidst the chaos of the world's Covid-19 response, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the UK Government had found time to produce a draft Fire Safety Bill.  The Bill was released on 19 March and it is only very short, consisting of a couple of apparently minor amendments to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. 

The changes are intended to clarify that building owners and managers of all multi-occupied residential buildings (defined as containing two or more sets of domestic premises) have a duty to assess the fire risks posed by the building's external walls, which include any cladding, windows and balconies – and its front entrance doors. 

Fire risk assessments

The vast majority of fire risk assessments (FRAs) undertaken since the Grenfell Tower tragedy do now consider the risks posed by cladding materials and the external walls anyway, and where they do not, commissioners of FRAs have come under increasing pressure from residential and commercial tenants alike to extend the coverage of the property's FRA to do so.  However, even armed with an FRA that identifies the flammability of external cladding, many tenants are still living and working in properties clad in non-compliant, high-risk materials, with an uphill struggle to get private-sector landlords or management companies to invest in making buildings safer.

Responsibility for front doors

The issue around domestic front doors is more tricky; when the 2005 Fire Safety Order first came into force, the enforcement guidance that accompanied it assumed that regardless of who owned the entrance door to an individual apartment, the building owner or the person with responsibility for managing the risk of fire would have a contractual right to replace or upgrade front doors as required. 

The practical reality is often very different, and even now, many residential leases are silent on the ownership of the front door, or alternatively assign ownership to the tenant, leaving the landlord with no right to carry out, or insist that the tenant carries out, front door improvement works.  As the front doors in residential blocks should be minimum FD30-rated fire doors in order to keep safe both the residents behind the front door, and their neighbours in the rest of the building, it is really important that the Responsible Person has the power to enforce any works needed to upgrade the fire doors if required.  However, the draft Fire Safety Bill does not seek to address what is essentially a private property law problem, so where the drafting of a lease allows the tenant to be uncooperative, the landlord will continue to have trouble complying with the statutory requirements relating to fire doors.
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