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Blocking off long existing fire escapes


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My flat is in a Victorian building. 4 floors over shops. At the rear there is a fire door  which leads to the bottom of a Victorian fire escape. Down steps to a small yard leading to a large yard. This has been in use many times a day for all the 20 years I have owned the flat to access the bin area at the rear and it is a route out of the building in an emergency. This was in place long before I owned the flat and probably over 100 years in some form. 

We have recently had all the rear barricaded and a gate with padlock erected with warnings that if we dare to access the large area the full force of the law will be used against us for trespassing  by order of the owner of the land. Our managing agents have agreed with the 'Unknown' person and we are not allowed to go out of the door any more. The latest claim they make is that the fire exit was never our fire exit and in the demise of one of the shops, despite it being used by residents for years  

Our only exit now is a front door with electric lock. The managing agent is looking at getting an electrician to look at the door to disable the lock in the event of fire as this is the only exit.  I raised concerns that the door could lock in the event of power cut or fire thereby trapping residents.   The fire procedure has been changed from stay put to evacuate though we do not know why.  One of the shops below us is a restaurant. We have a fire alarm but it is not tested weekly , in fact I have never heard it tested in 20 years as the managing agents say it is unnecessary.   I have requested information about the freeholder's implementation of new rules  from the managing agents but they have refused to share it   I have spoken to fire service but although they are very concerned the rep assigned to our building has had a heart attack and is off work. I would like to see a soliciter but do not have information as the managing agents are withholding it.  Can you give me any advice on any of this ? 

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  • 2 weeks later...

You need to speak to a solicitor who specialises in property law. The issue is that from what you say there appears to never have been a formal legal agreement for the flat occupiers to access the shop yard for escape purposes (known as a Deed of Easement, Means of Escape license & various similar terms). Without it, the owner of the land is within their rights to block access (with notice) even if it causes fire safety issues.

Four options usually exist:

- Negotiate a Deed of Easement with the other owner, this usually involves paying them a fee or a small rent

- Provide a new different escape route (rarely practicable as the lack of other escape options is why route over other premises existed in the first place.

- Provide mitigation for the lack of alternative exit (sprinklers, smoke vents, alarms, etc)

- Court remedy: Some cases have been brought  where a premises has enjoyed the use of a route through adjoining land without objection for a number of years and been granted a de facto easement by the Court.

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