Stand by for new fire regulations

by Gary Whittaker

The Grenfell Tower disaster was an incident that shocked a nation; coming so soon after two major terrorist incidents, it provided another jolt, so much so that it even prompted the Queen to speak of sorrow rather than joy in her official birthday message.

While the tragedy was, of course, felt most by those personally affected, it also sent shockwaves through the rental sector. There was much argument about what the catastrophe said about the state of social housing in Britain, but it also left practical minds thinking about what could be done to prevent a recurrence. 

Much was made at the time of the lack of sprinklers - which may have been of little relevance as the fire spread from the outside - as well as the flaws in cladding, which has left serious questions for the insulation industry. But there can be little doubt that, as with any major disaster, there will be changes to laws and regulations that landlords will have to adjust to.

A damning judgement

The first sign of this has emerged in the interim review, chaired by Judge Judith Hackett. She declared that the systems of fire safety in place now for complex or high-rise buildings are "not fit for purpose", being both inadequate and confusing. A whole new system of enforcement and regulation is needed, she added. 

In addition, she said there was a culture of corner-cutting in the construction industry that often left buildings unsafe, breaking the rules already in place. 

As well as stricter regulations, annual inspections to ensure buildings are safe will be required, she recommended. 

The report did also say that the failings identified do not mean that all - or indeed even a majority - of buildings are unsafe. But it does suggest that many landlords will have invested in properties that might not have been built as safely as they should, or adhere to the sort of standards that will be necessary to prevent more tragedies. 

Don't wait for legislation

While the final report - and subsequent legislation - is yet to come, one thing landlords will need to do in response will be to keep a close eye on developments, so they can prepare in advance for any new requirements that changes to the law may place on them. This might involve more regular inspections, the fitting of more fire-retardant materials, new sprinklers or other measures. Conscientious landlords can pre-empt such measures by taking such steps anyway. 

Moreover, it may be a very wise step to have inspections carried out now to see if there are indeed shortcomings in the fabric of a building. While many headlines have been made by tests on the cladding fitted to buildings all over Britain that have found them to be a fire risk, it may also be worth checking for other dangers inside. It will also help generate goodwill among tenants to see that their landlords are responding to concerns about fire safety.

Grenfell was a terrible tragedy that cost the lives of 71 people. But by acting now and being ready to respond to future changes to laws and regulations, each and every landlord can play their part in ensuring their own tenants are kept at the lowest risk possible. 

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22-December-17General Lettings News