Guest James Balcombe

Fire door and alarm advice

8 posts in this topic

Hi,

I am a director of an RTM company which represents a block of flats set in a grade 2 listed Georgian building built in the 1700s. The building was converted into 7 flats around 1990 and spans over 3 floors. We employ a managing agent to take care of the day to day running of the building and they refer back to us for any important decisions. 

We recently had an FRA conducted which recommended that each flat entrance door is replaced by a 30 minute fire door. Our agent wants to send to legal notices to each leaseholder saying that there doors are required to be replaced to meet this new standard and enforcement action will be taken for non-compliance. They want to go about it very aggressively and threaten enforcement action if each door is not replaced within the next few months. The question I had is whether this was a reasonable demand given it is a grade 2 listed building? Are there exceptions for these types of buildings?

In addition, the FRA report also recommended that we install a Grade A: LD2 fire alarm system in the communal hallway with linked heat detectors in each flat. We already have a fire alarm system in the hallway (grade D) and given the FRA findings are recommended, are we able to stick with the grade D system for now? Is this a legal requirement to upgrade the system to a grade A standard and how do we have any say over installing heat detectors in each leasee's flat?

Appreciate any advice on the matter.

Thanks

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Age does not exempt a premises from meeting minimum safety standards, in fact increases the work possibly needed, although there may be alternative solutions available.

The results of the FRA seem to indicate that the structure of the conversion does not provide adequate fire separation for a 'stay put' policy, that upgrading is not practicable and that a full evacuation strategy is required. A common area only fire alarm is of no value as by the time it triggers it's too late, plus it wouldn't wake sleeping occupants hence the upgrade.

Landlords cannot force leaseholders to upgrade non compliant front doors, however if they are substandard than as they affect the common areas they are a significant finding in a fire risk assessment - if after correspondence regarding the replacement of substandard fire doors there is an impasse the matter should be referred to Environmental Health who can take legal action against the lessees under the Housing Act to get the doors changed

Heritage doors can often be upgraded rather than replaced and with only 3 floors this isn't necessarily outside guidance. However you need to check what is covered by the building's listing - some listed buildings only have the external structure and features covered and internals are not subject to listing restrictions on alterations.

If the conversion in 1990 provided suitable compartmentation then there are other approaches, but without seeing the site it's impossible to say

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It appears you are the Responsible Person under The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and have a duty to implement article 8 to 22 in the common areas, the front doors of the flats form part of the common area. The tenants of the flats are not subject to the RR(FS)O except for a small section of the order. You need the tenants goodwill to enter the flats so I would use a softly softly approach which in most cases should work but if there is an impasse threaten with an injunction which has worked in the past.

I think as you have a legal obligation it would be better if you upgraded or replaced the front doors, passing any costs to the tenants through service charges. Providing the grade "A" fire alarm again is your legal responsibility and providing the smoke alarms/CO alarms to each flat is your legal responsibility under the  The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015.

Taking into account the above comments I would suggest you organise the work yourself passing on any costs through service charges and remember softly softly catchy monkey. You need to acton the work as soon as possible but it is understandable it will take sometime to complete and this should be understood by the Enforcing Authority.

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Beware replacing doors en masse and trying to recharge all the lessees - Southwark Council did this, the lessees took them to Court and won and the Council had to bear the full cost. (Southwark Council v Various Lessees of the St Saviours Estate)

https://nearlylegal.co.uk/2017/01/perception-of-doors/

A full inspection of all the doors by a competent person such as an FDIS contractor will determine on a priority basis which doors can stay as is, which need upgrading and which need full replacement - this and an examination of the lease conditions will determine ease of cost recovery.

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Check out http://www.tanfieldchambers.co.uk/resources/articles/southwark-council-v-various-lessees-of-the-st-saviours-estate-2017-ukut-10-lc and it appears the findings of the tribunal was limited to an eighty pounds charge because the council could not prove the doors required upgrading or replacing and I think your lawers needs to look in this more deeply.

Also what you would do if the tenants refuse to replace or upgrade the doors, as this work is required as result of the implementation of The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 . 

We would be pleased if you keep us informed on the outcome of this situation.

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Thank you guys, your detailed comments are much appreciated. I will let you know how we proceed.

To add to some confusion into the mix - we conducted an FRA assessment by another operator a few months before our new managing agent conducted there own using a different provider. I have just checked the findings and they seem to differ around the fire alarms required for the communal areas. The previous FRA report says we need a Grade D: LD2 coverage in the common areas and a heat alarm in each flat in the room/lobby opening onto the escape route (interlinked). This is instead of a Grade A: LD2 fire alarm system.

Do you know what to do in this situation? Both FRA reports are of high quality and it bemuses me why there is a difference. We are leaning towards going with the Grade D recommendation especially when considering the differences in costs involved.

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A Grade D system in the common parts would only normally be accepted for two storey flat conversions, with three or more floors it moves to a Grade A system (LACORS Guide, the appropriate benchmark for a non building regs compliant conversion and what it sounds like the various assessors have used).

Whilst there is flexibility in risk assessment you need to be aware that enforcers usually refer to the benchmark and it may be worth checking with them first- a Grade D system is cheaper (especially if you can radio link it) except if you are made down the line to remove it and replace it.

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