Building Safety Bill – what about the residents?
One of the key aims of the Building Safety Bill is to put residents at the heart of the new regulatory system. This article looks ahead to the new resident-focused obligations that landlords of higher risk buildings (and their residents) will need to get ready for.
Scope of the new provisions
The Building Safety Bill introduces a new regulatory system for the management of building safety in "higher risk buildings", meaning buildings of 18 metres or more in height, or seven or more storeys, containing at least two flats. The most significant of the new in-occupation obligations on landlords are the creation of the new accountable person and building safety manager roles, as well as the requirement to prepare a building safety case and register it with the new building safety regulator. However, there are various other new obligations that the principal accountable person (usually the landlord) will need to comply with once the provisions come into force.
Residents' engagement strategy
For the first time, it will be a statutory requirement for a resident engagement strategy to be produced for each higher risk building. The primary purpose of the strategy will be for residents aged 16 and over (and non-resident owners) to be encouraged to participate in the making of building safety decisions. It will need to set out:
- what information will be provided to residents;
- what decisions they will be consulted on;
- how residents' views will be taken into account; and
- how the appropriateness of consultation undertaken will be measured.
Further guidance is due to follow in the form of regulations issued by the Secretary of State.
Requests for information
The Bill introduces significantly increased rights to building safety information for residents. Where a resident makes a request for prescribed information or a copy of a prescribed document, the accountable person will be obliged to provide such information.
The Secretary of State is due to issue regulations setting out the types of prescribed information that will fall within scope of the new provisions, but examples are likely to include full, current and historic fire risk assessments, planned maintenance and repair schedules and the fire strategy for the building. The regulations may also provide that any obligation of confidentiality will not be breached by disclosing such information, although it is expected that there will be exemptions where disclosure would cause security issues or relating to the disclosure of sensitive personal information.
The Bill introduces obligatory internal complaints procedures, which will need to be put in place so that residents can raise concerns regarding the safety of their building or the accountable person’s compliance with their building safety duties. Where complaints cannot be resolved by the internal procedure, residents will be entitled to escalate their complaint to the building safety regulator.
The Bill introduces the following new duties upon residents:
- not to act in a way that creates a significant risk of a building safety risk materialising;
- not to interfere with or damage a "relevant safety item" (which is defined as anything forming common parts that is intended to improve building safety); and
- to comply with an accountable person’s request for information that is reasonably required to enable them to perform their duties.
The accountable person will be empowered to serve a contravention notice if the duties are not complied with, specifying steps the resident should take. This may specify a sum payable by the resident if repair or replacement of a relevant safety item is required. Contravention notices can ultimately be enforced by the County Court upon the application of the accountable person, if required.
Access to premises
The Bill introduces significant new access rights, by which the accountable person will be entitled to request access in order to:
- assessing and manage building safety risks; and
- determine whether residents' duties have been contravened.
Access requests will need to set out the purpose for gaining access, explain why it is necessary, request access at a reasonable time and provide at least 48 hours' notice. If access is not provided, the accountable person will be entitled to apply to the County Court to enforce the access request on a specified date.
With great power comes great responsibility
As may be seen from this summary, the Bill arms residents with new powers to seek disclosure of building safety information and generally to hold landlords and accountable persons to account. This is likely to lead to a much higher degree of transparency and visibility as to the building safety processes that are put in place. In return, the Bill places substantial responsibilities on residents to ensure they play their part in keeping the building safe.
Once the Bill has passed into legislation and the Secretary of State has made the regulations setting out further details, there will be much for landlords to get to grips with before the provisions come into force, most likely between 12-18 months from the Bill being enacted.