Letter to Dame Judith Hackitt

This letter was sent prior to the publication of the Hackitt report and formed the basis of an Inside Housing article:

An open letter to Dame Judith Hackitt,

As part of the findings in your interim report you identified a need to create a clear, adequate, and statutory route for residents to raise concerns about fire safety. You have also highlighted the need to find a way to confirm the safety of a building whilst it is occupied and being maintained. One of the challenges for many landlords is that their buildings are occupied by a mix of tenants and leaseholders, and their ability to effectively manage the safety of the building can be restricted by the various terms of the leases.

Should we now consider the creation of a new status of “Responsible Occupier”?

It is an acknowledged “norm” that Health and Safety at work is the responsibility of everyone. Employers must take their responsibility seriously, as must individual employees. Employers must also provide appropriate training for their employees

Perhaps it is time to apply the same principles to residential housing.

The landlord’s responsibility for fire safety is identified in legislation through the “Responsible Person”. Whilst there continues to be some uncertainty about how that person can be identified when the building is owned by a private company, (and that must be resolved during your review) there is general acceptance that in the social housing sector that role is held by a senior executive or Chair of the Board.

Whilst there has been much publicity about the “failings” of some landlords with regard to the management of fire safety, there have also been occasions where landlords are unable to fulfil their duties because of restrictions placed on them by the terms of the leases of building occupants. There is concern that the safety of the building (and its occupants) can be compromised by the unwillingness/lack of knowledge of some occupiers, and that current legislation is inadequate.             

It is generally accepted that the differences between leases (sometimes in the same building) are causing considerable difficulty in effectively managing safety generally:

The 1998 Gas Regulations require landlords to annually inspect supplied gas appliances.

All the tenanted properties in a block can be 100% compliant with regard to gas inspections, but the landlord has no information about the safety of the gas appliances in flats occupied by leaseholders.

It is the same for tests to domestic electrical equipment and wiring.

In addition, the leaseholder is not required to provide (or make available if requested) information to confirm that fire safety has not been compromised, and generally, the landlord has no right of access to check any element of fire safety that might compromise the building’s compartmentation.

It would be very helpful if the creation of a legal status of a “Responsible Occupier” could supersede all lease terms and place a responsibility on the Occupier to provide information to the landlord, irrespective of lease or tenancy. The responsibility would require the Occupier to behave in a prescribed manner and have a legal duty to cooperate with the Responsible Person to maintain safety in a residential building. It is not intended that the creation of the new status would affect the lease terms with regard to responsibility for the apportionment of costs.

Jan Taranczuk CIHCM

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