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Landlords Under FireLandlords Under Fire

» Posted on: 7 July 2009
» Posted by: Barry Challender
» Service area: Commercial Property

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A custodial sentence has been handed out to a landlord for breaches of the new fire safety regulations. This is the first custodial sentence of its kind to be given in London. The director of the company involved was sentenced to 4 months imprisonment and his company, Watchacre Properties Limited, was fined £21,000 for serious breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

The prosecution was instigated following a fatal fire at a building owned by the company.

There were numerous charges related to failures in making sufficient assessment of risk, making and giving effect to appropriate fire safety arrangements, providing appropriate fire lighting equipment, providing appropriate fire detection measures including smoke alarms in the common parts, ensuring that there were adequate evacuation procedures and protecting escape routes, allowing combustible materials to be stored in the exit routes, installing adequate emergency signage and establishing appropriate procedures to be followed in the event of a serious or imminent fire.

So what can be learned from this?

(a) There is a willingness on the part of the authorities to prosecute for breaches of the Regulatory Reform Order and a willingness on the part of the courts to hand out custodial sentences and heavy fines where the court considers such breaches are serious.

(b) Directors cannot hide behind the “corporate veil” for breaches of the Regulatory Reform Order.

What do you need to do?

If you have not already carried out a fire risk assessment of your business premises then you need to do so now.

If your organisation is large enough, appoint a person competent to carry out the fire risk assessment and if necessary have someone trained to fill that role and make staff aware of what they have to do in the event of a fire.

Ensure that you have adequate fire detection measures and fire fighting equipment and that you have the necessary emergency exits, which must be kept clear at all times.

If you are the tenant of business premises, you will be responsible for complying with the Regulatory Reform Order. Make sure that any alterations you have to carry out to comply with the Order do not breach the terms of your lease.

If you have made a fire risk assessment, ensure that it is regularly reviewed to take into account any changed circumstances or alterations to the premises.

For those reading this who are fortunate enough to own apartment blocks, if there are parts of the building which your tenants share e.g. halls, staircases, landing etc, note that this will be classed as business premises for the purposes of the Order, so you must have carried out a fire risk assessment and taken any action which is necessary.

If you are an occupant of business premises in a building which is also shared with other businesses, you are responsible for your own fire risk assessment, which would need to be assimilated into the fire risk assessment of your landlord. If your landlord has not carried out its own fire risk assessment then you should remind him (or his agents) of his health and safety responsibilities and the consequences that might flow from his failure in putting a fire risk assessment in place.

If an insurer has to meet a claim which has arisen as a result of your failure to comply with the Order it may well take proceedings against you for recovery of the compensation paid under the claim.

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