Buildings insurance is a legal requirement and a condition of taking out a mortgage. Leases usually require leaseholders to contribute towards the cost of insuring the building in one of two ways: either by the cost being included in the service charges or within a separate area of ‘insurance rent’.
Buildings insurance covers the fabric of the building (the structure, roof, the land the building stands on, foundations, load bearing walls, gardens, landings, and stairways) which are collective known as the common areas. These don’t belong to individual leaseholders and can also cover other permanent fixtures outside, such as gates, fences, drives and swimming pools.
It will be the freeholder or the Resident Management Company who will be responsible for the repairs, maintenance, and the health and safety of these areas but having said that, there is no legal definition of common areas so it is the lease that will be the definitive document.
Buildings insurance generally cover against ‘specific risk’ such as fire, flood, malicious damage, water leaks etc and extends to all areas of the building (including any necessary repairs and redecoration to individual flats as well as fixtures such as shower trays and baths but the latter is a bit of a grey area). It also covers the following:
- Contents of Communal Areas: This can include items such as carpets;
- Trace & Access Cover: An important element because investigating the cause of a leak for example may involve stripping a kitchen to find and then repair a pipe;
- Accidental Damage to Underground Services and Cables: This insures gas, electricity, oil or water, as well as sewage pipes but does not insured against wear and tear;
- Emergency Repairs: Many policies cover the cost of temporary work.
- Legal Expenses: If this type of policy is issued solely in the name of the freeholder than this may not defend the management company;
- Lift Insurance: The law requires lifts to be inspected every 6 months by an approved ‘competent authority’ and appropriate reports to be held as confirmation. It is also common to cover lifts against sudden and unforseen damage which can be extended to cover other machinery such as electric gates and automatic entrance doors. Cover is also subject to VAT at the current rate.
- Terrorism Insurance: Terrorism cover is not automatically included unless it is requested. Since January 2003, it has been offered on an ‘All Risks’ basis including damage caused by nuclear, biological and radiological attack and is designed to reflect the perceived danger of contamination caused by terrorist activities i.e. the fall-out from a ‘dirty bomb’.
- Public Liability Insurance: Flat owners, occupants, managing agents and freeholders all need to be protected from being held financially responsible for damage to the block and to persons. For example if a visitor to the property sustains injury after a trip or fall by slipping on a wet surface, they could possibly claim for compensation against the policyholder under the public liabilities section although of course, negligence would have to be proven.
This is not technically considered as insurance but most highly regarded firms will provide this additional cover.
The most common covers available under engineering insurance policies are:
- Own Surrounding Property: Cover applies to boiler and pressure plant and covers damage to own surrounding property following the plant exploding due to internal pressure;
- Breakdown, Explosion and Collapse: This covers pressure plant for breakdown, explosion and collapse;
- Sudden and Unforeseen Damage: Provides cover for risk including accidental damage, operator error, frost damage, leakage, cracking, fracturing and ingress of foreign bodies.
This cover aims to dovetail with the property cover to ensure that as many eventualities as possible are covered and it is recommended that this insurance be considered if you are not confident that the service charge budget can cover the costs of unplanned emergency repair work.
One excess that appears in almost all policies applies to damage caused by subsidence, heave or landslip and this is usually a specific amount.
The insurer might also offer a policy for a higher excess if it thinks there’s a greater risk of a claim being made- such as when a building requires insurance but it already has existing problems (something that happened with our block before we took over management then freehold ownership).
Alternatively a higher excess can be requested in order to obtain a lower premium.
Damaged Contents Owned By Residents
What buildings insurance does not cover is the the replacement of damaged contents owned by residents (except in certain circumstances). This should be covered by individual contents insurance (see below).
VIEWING THE POLICY
Any leaseholders paying a service charge which includes an amount payable either directly or indirectly for insurance, under the Schedule to s30a of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, they can request (in writing) a summary of the current insurance policy. They are entitled to see the policy and any associated documents at the office or request that copies be sent to their home address, or be made available for collection from the office.
If they are members of a recognised Residents Association, the Secretary can request it on their behalf. It must be provided within 21 days from the day on which the request is received by the landlord.
The summary must show:
- The amount for which the property is insured;
- The name of the insurer;
- The risks that the policy insures against.
Facilities To Inspect The Full Policy
Within 6 months of receiving the summary, leaseholders (or the Secretary) may request that facilities be available whereby they can not only inspect the full policy and associated documents but they can take copies and extracts. Compliance is required within 21 days from the day on which the notice is received.
The managing parties will need to arrange access to where the policy is held (which cannot be charged for). Proof of payment must also be made available for inspection. Alternatively leaseholders can request (in writing) for them to be sent or to be made available for collection.
Note: if the latter option is requested then a ‘reasonable’ fee can be charged under administration charges and the policy holder must respond within 21 days of receipt of the request.
Should a claim need to be made, the role of the Claims and Loss Adjusters can be read here.