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Common areas of a block of flats are those areas not owned by individual leaseholder and cover the structure of the building, the land the building stands on, plant rooms, lift motor rooms, meter cupboards, gardens, paths, garages and any outbuildings. As there is no legal definition of common areas it will be the lease that is the definitive document. The freeholder is ultimately responsible for carrying out the risk assessing of any and all areas where workers may be required to carry out repairs and maintenance under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

What To Do and When To Do It

The following broad guidelines on what to carry out (and when) have been sourced from the Federation of Private Residents’ Associations (FPRA). Not all will apply, (depending on the type of the building) and it is the terms of the lease that should be the definitive guide.

Annually

Asbestos Review Report
Buildings Insurance (a condition of purchasing a flat)
Emergency Lighting
Garden Review
H&S Audit/Update
PAT Testing
Porter/Staff Reviews
Roof Inspection
Tree Inspection
Water Risk Assessment
Window Cleaning

Every 6 Months

Inspect/Clear Gutters
Jet Wash Paths

Every 3 Years

Health & Safety – Major Review
Buildings Insurance – Alternative Quotations

Every 5 Years

Communal ElectricsFull Inspection
External Decorations

Every 7 Years

Internal Decorations

Plant and Equipment

Thorough examination of passenger lifts (and perhaps boilers) are regulatory requirements but (depending on the property) may extend to include equipment such as all lifts – passenger, goods and disabled – steam boilers, pressure vessels, refuse hoists, gantry access equipment and window cleaning equipment.

HOUSING HEALTH AND SAFETY RATINGS SYSTEM

The Housing Health and Safety Ratings System (HHSRS) was introduced under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 and is an ‘evidence-based risk assessment’ approach to housing. It isn’t actually targeted at owner-occupiers of houses, rather it is aimed at the PRS but it also applies to the common areas of blocks of flats.

Under Part 1, Chapter 1 s4 of the Act it states that ”if an official complaint about the condition of any residential premises is made to the proper officer of the authority’ i.e.a complaint received by writing by a ‘justice of the peace having jurisdiction in any part of the district’,’ or the ‘parish or community council for a parish or community within the district’ and if the circumstances complained of indicate that any Category 1 or 2 hazard may exist on those premises or an area in the district should be dealt with as a clearance area, the proper officer must inspect the premises or area’.

Before we took over out block I’d already had one request for such an assessment turned down even though we had;

  1. No lighting on stairwells;
  2. Water entering our electrics;
  3. Rainwater pouring from guttering and leaking into other flats (including those of my neighbours property);
  4. Unsecured water tanks on a defective roof!

So, positive that we would be found to have Cat 1 and Cat 2 hazards, I asked again. This time I was successful and whilst I personally didn’t know a JP, I asked if my local MP would suffice as he was happy to refer my request to the council. The leader of the council took his own legal advice and said his own referral would be acceptable.
Two visits under the legislation yielded 2 Category A hazards (the most severe) and a number of Cat B’s and C’s.

The elements covered were:

  1. Damp and mould growth from a defective flat roof, where sections of asphalt have been replaced and were cracked and uneven and holding pools of stagnant water. There was more pooling evidenced across the rest of the roof, the up stand to recently replaced asphalt was correctly installed and allowing water penetration along the parapet wall. The water supply for washing, cleaning and sanitation purposes was contained in exposed tanks and dilapidated wood was allowing the entry of foreign objects and organisms. There was also inadequate protection against contamination of water in header tanks.
  2. Entry by intruders;
  3. Personal hygiene/sanitation and drainage;
  4. Water supply;
  5. Falls associated with stairs and steps;
  6. Structural collapse/falling elements.

SO WHAT WERE THEY GOING TO DO?

We understood that the local authority would be under a duty to take the relevant course of action. They would consider the risk from any hazard(s) that might affect the potential occupant most at risk and come up with practical solutions.

Additionally in deciding the most appropriate enforcement method they would also consider matters such as cost of the works necessary to deal with the hazards. Actions they could take would be:

1: Serve an Improvement Notice?

This is a possible course of action for dealing with category 1 or 2 hazards and must at the very least remove any category 1’s. Work will not need to start any sooner than 28 days from when the notice is served. It may, if necessary, be suspended until an agreed date or event such as the current occupant moving out of the property. It can cover more than one hazard, and as a result may need different completion times. Once the necessary work has been done to their satisfaction, the authority must revoke the notice. Failure to carry out the required works in the Improvement Notice within the specified time frame is a criminal offence.

2: Make a Prohibition Order?

The local authority will take a number of factors into account before serving a prohibition order, including:

  1. Listed or protected buildings;
  2. Neighbouring buildings;
  3. Potential alternative uses of the premises;
  4. Existence of a conservation or renewal area;
  5. The effect of complete prohibition on the well being of the local community and the appearance of the locality;
  6. How easy it is to re-house displaced occupants.

Once such factors have been considered they would then consider what action to take such as prohibiting the use of part (or all) of the premises for various specified reasons such as where:

  1. The conditions are a serious threat to health and/or safety but practical repairs are not possible because of cost or other reasons;
  2. Limiting the maximum number of people who occupy the dwelling because of defects or where the facilities, e.g. washing, sanitary etc., are unsatisfactory for the number of people who live there; and
  3. Prohibiting the use of a dwelling to a particular vulnerable group (until such time as improvements have been made).

However, despite both the findings and our expectations, the Council did not take any further action because by that time, the managing agents had succeeded in getting themselves struck off Companies House Register simply by failing to file! Not only that, the family solicitor of the deceased freeholder failed to advise as to whom the freehold had been willed to. As a result there was no-one to serve any more notices on as per s246(6) of the Housing Act 2004 and the council could not carry out works in default under Part 2 of Schedule 2 (procedure and appeals relating to Prohibition Orders) because there was no one to recover the money from!

In the meantime, whilst the building continued to deteriorate very high winds sent the top of an unsecured water tank into my next door neighbour’s garden! I was horrified at its size and the potential damage to both life and property it could have caused. We were however fortunate(?) that the very large satellite dish rolling round on the roof didn’t go overboard too. Even though my partner had a slipped disk he went onto the roof and moved it into a safer position, protected from the wind. He also found another water tank serving another flat completely exposed!

So, nothing from the council but we did finally get an agent and secure the Right to Manage (in the nick of time!)

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