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Fire exits into adjoining building

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Guest Learner 1


I’m looking at purchasing a commercial building with 4 floors, on viewing I found that their are two final escape doors on the ground floor and there is a stairway fire escape route top to bottom. On the other 3 floors there is a door on each floor marked as a fire exit into the adjoining property with a break glass release mechanism.

On investigation next door, I found that they also use the doors as a fire escape route into the building I propose to purchase.

My question is are these fire exit routes legally compliant?

If so do I need to have a legal agreement with the adjoining property owner to keep full escape routes clear and open as presently at the end of the day the occupiers of each floor (rented out to businesses floor by floor) lock their floor resulting in an escape from my proposed building into a room but not exit from that room

I would be most grateful for any advice

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Yes they are. They date back to early forms of modern fire safety and building regulations, which when applied to existing buildings would require an additional escape route. Some buildings had the footprint to add external steel escapes - others in city centres terraced with adjoining buildings couldn't and so escapes across roofs and through party walls became a common solution.

As these are escapes into adjoining fire compartments they comply (although if you were building the terrace of buildings today you wouldn't usually be permitted to do this) but you do then fall into civil law regarding right of access. Without an agreement in the form of an easement, deed of variation, means of escape license or similar one party can lawfully remove right of access and potentially physically remove it too. Even where such an arrangement exists they sometimes expire on change of owner (which one client fell victim to resulting in selling up rather than doing the work to provide new alternatives).

If you get a decent fire risk assessor (not a tick box champion) they can measure travel distances, exit and stair widths, take occupancy figures and determine if you actually need these adjoining escapes anymore - sometimes I've been able to justify removal without the need to add new stair cores or anything dramatic. Note that in other cases this hasn't been possible without major works if at all so it isn't a given.

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This type of situation was one of several issues that caused the demise of a hotel project in the centre of Belfast. Unfortunately the fairly well-known developer had failed to take it into account. The neighbour objected to the development and refused access to the escape route which was under his control. Irrespective of the legalities, a court case could have went on for years to establish right to use. We had no option but to cut a big hole through the floor slab from top to bottom and provide an independent stair. I would take Anthony’s advice and go for a detailed assessment along with a structural survey that considers your proposals for the building.

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