Fire Risk and Asbestos
Q: We are the leaseholders of a Victorian house converted into five flats, the fifth of which is a self-contained basement flat. We run our own management company. The owner of the basement flat wishes to sell, and his potential purchaser’s solicitor has asked for a fire risk assessment of the common areas and an ‘asbestos survey for the common areas as this is a requirement in a multi-let building’.
The building has been inspected by the local fire brigade, who have advised on safety procedures, and smoke detectors have been issued and are regularly tested, and all flats have fire doors. Other than provide these facts, do we need to do anything further in answering the solicitor’s question?
Are we in fact a ‘multi-let’ building (I thought an HMO was six flats and above), and is there a requirement for us to have an asbestos survey of the common areas? Over the years, many works have been carried out on the internal areas without any asbestos or risk of asbestos being reported by our expert contractors.
FPRA Hon Consultant Emily Orner replies:
It is quite usual for a solicitor to raise these two queries and both documents would need to be provided. To expand further I can clarify the following:
Fire Risk Assessment
It is the responsibility of the party with the responsibility for management of the common areas to complete a fire risk assessment to adequately identify and assess any fire risks within the common area. This may include looking at compartmentation of the building (basically looking at how quickly a fire may spread), any potential causes of fire, and any issues which may hinder an escape from the building in the event of a fire. It should also include identifying a fire action plan for the building.
It may be that this is covered by the document which you have from the fire brigade and this may be sufficient for the solicitor’s purposes. However, any assessment should be reviewed regularly and so if this was obtained some time ago, it may need to be re-inspected and re-assessed. You would also need to satisfy yourselves, as the management company with the responsibility for the building, that you are happy that the assessment adequately identifies and deals with all possible risks.
The common areas of a block of flats are classed as a workplace under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. As such, you have an obligation to ensure that these areas are free of asbestos, or that any asbestos is identified and managed. The reference to a “multi-let building” is misleading but this refers to the leases for each of the flats. A better explanation would be that the asbestos report is required for the common areas of the property. Where the property is not registered as an HMO (there are some circumstances where it may be even though the flats are completely separate) the responsibility only extends to the communal areas and a Type 2 asbestos management survey would be required. This would be a non-intrusive survey of the common areas by a specialist to identify if there is any asbestos and if so how it should be managed. If there is no asbestos this will be a one-off exercise. If some asbestos is detected the report may need to be repeated to manage the asbestos but your surveyor would be able to advise you on any frequency.
In summary, both of these assessments are required. You may already have sufficient information to deal with the fire risk assessment, but I would encourage you to satisfy yourselves that this is up-to-date and adequately assesses all risks. You should arrange the asbestos survey of the common areas as soon as possible. Neither should be a significant cost.
[Submitted August 2019]