A property consultancy says it’s identified the next ‘landmine’ in the building safety saga facing agents and landlords around the country.
Mary-Anne Bowring, group managing director at property consultancy Ringley Group, is warning that fire door inspections and compartmentation will be the ‘next big issue.’
She says that in a bid to correct a series of catastrophic missteps in building safety, new legislation in the form of the Fire Safety Act 2021 introduces fresh rules concerning the inspection of fire doors, requiring regular assessment of external walls, flat front doors, and compartmentation within common parts of buildings.
But while the Act has been criticised for abandoning the duty of care to leaseholders facing rising remediation costs, Bowring says that an overlooked amendment to undertake more extensive and invasive fire safety inspections is set to trigger higher service charges at the expense of leaseholders already without financial support.
Previously, flat front doors were “demised” to the resident. For the purpose of fire safety, they weren’t included in the common parts of the building overseen by the property manager. This has now changed.
The new Act has amended the existing fire safety rules set out in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO] to cover not only “the external walls of the building, including cladding” but also “fire doors for domestic premises of multiple occupancy”.
Leaseholders face higher service charges and more frequent building safety checks as managing agents are now tasked with completing these inspections. The costs of arranging for a contractor to inspect all common areas and fire doors, may also escalate if managing agents have to make multiple trips if leaseholders are absent or are otherwise prevented from access.
Bowring anticipates that further costs are also likely to surface in the form of flat compartmentation inspections high up on the agenda of the newly-introduced Building Safety Regulator. Flat compartmentation means a building or part of a building comprising one or more rooms, spaces or storeys constructed to prevent the spread of fire to or from another part of the same building or an adjoining building.
While Westminster’s Building Safety Fund fails to cover new inspection obligations, the Welsh Government has confirmed that they will cover funding for surveys that go beyond cladding issues to include things like ineffective compartmentation and FD30-120 fire door resistance appraisals. Julia James, the minister responsible for housing in Wales, has also suggested that this package is part of a phased response to fire safety concerns which will include a secondary remediation fund.
The expansion of the Welsh Government’s financial support for at-risk leaseholders represents further disunity in approaches to building safety across the UK.
Bowring says: “Leaseholders burdened with the costs of remediation are stranded once again in the minefield of building and fire safety legislation, awaiting the detonation of the next issue left unsolved.
“While it’s important that correct fire doors are installed in all buildings, never mind high rises, without a more comprehensive commitment to financial assistance as we see in Wales leaseholders will be forced to bear the costs demanded of more stringent inspections. Flat compartmentation, high on the priority list of the Building Safety Regulator, will only compound the problem unless the government intervenes to protect those most at risk.
“Managing agents should be doing all they can to meet these new requirements head-on, and need to be guiding vulnerable leaseholders through a changing regulatory landscape.”