Building safety – Resident rights and responsibilities
The draft Building Safety Bill contains various proposals for resident-related duties in higher-risk buildings. Key ones include:
Provision of information
An 'Accountable Person' (AP) (often the landlord, but sometimes the managing agent depending on the circumstances) must:
- produce a residents’ engagement strategy promoting ‘the participation of relevant persons in the making of building safety decisions’,
- provide prescribed information, and
- set up a complaints system.
The detail of these proposals will be found in regulation in due course. A key challenge for the AP in the meantime though, will be working out how to identify who is entitled to the information, and how to get it to them – the definition of a 'resident' is broad and extends beyond direct tenants and leaseholders ('a person who lawfully resides there’).
Resident duties regarding risk
The proposed duties for residents in higher-risk buildings are narrower than the original proposal of introducing a general duty to cooperate with the AP. They currently comprise duties to:
- keep in repair and proper working order all 'relevant resident’s items' (e.g. any electrical or gas installations or appliances in their home, but possibly subject to new regulations),
- take reasonable care to avoid damaging safety items in the common parts, (long leases in particular must therefore be drafted so as to make clear what matters are caught - for example the front door to a property will be a fire door),
- comply with requests from the AP for information in connection with the AP’s duties relating to building safety risks, and preventing major incidents.
These duties are enforceable initially by service of a notice on the resident, and then through the county court. The court can order either that the resident comply with their duties, or that the AP should be allowed access to their home.
While these duties and enforcement abilities apply as a matter of law, a prudent landlord would include clauses in their tenancy agreements and leases, which set out the duties and landlord abilities in clear wording – raising both the resident's awareness of their statutory responsibilities, and providing a route to obtaining possession where failure to comply puts other residents at risk.
Practical issues will also need to be considered; how can a social landlord assist tenants who have severe budgetary restraints, in ensuring that their electrical etc. items are safe.
The Bill also implies various terms into long leases of more than 21 years (so catching right to buy, right to acquire and shared ownership properties) where they relate to homes in higher-risk buildings. These include an implied covenant by the leaseholder to allow the landlord entry upon 48 hours' notice, for the purposes of carrying out prescribed building safety measures (enforceable again via the county court).
Some have noted that it is not clear on the face of the Bill as to whether (or to what extent) the landlord's right of access extends to actually undertaking works within the leaseholder's home - and what considerations should be made in relation to how works could potentially infringe the leaseholder's rights to quiet enjoyment (an common area of conflict for long leases).