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Building Safety Case Success Under Section 27(a) of the Landlord and Tenant Act

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Further to other recent successes in building safety matters, JB Leitch have this week seen a determination at the First-tier tribunal, under section 27(a) of the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985), that will enable installation of a new building safety system to be included as a reasonable sum within the service charge.

The case relates to a block of residential apartments in central Manchester, where a small fire had occurred on a balcony of the building. Upon investigation it was discovered that the Building lacked protection against the spread of fire internally and externally, and that consequently the tenants living in the building were at risk.

Our client, the building’s management company, with the assistance of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) arranged for a manned “waking watch” to protect the building temporarily, whilst seeking tenders for an integrated fire alarm system to be installed in the building which would offer full protection pending changes to the combustible parts of the external facade.

Having followed the consultation process under section 20* and obtaining a number of tendered quotes, each contractor was asked to tender for two alternative types of installation.

  1. A genuinely temporary heat detector system which would require evacuation of the whole building on activation.
  2. A heat and smoke detection system which is capable of being turned off for a limited time by the occupier of the flat in which the alarm originates, thus obviating the need for full evacuation of the Building in the event of a false alarm.

With the respondents claiming that the cost of installing a fire alarm system in the common parts was not a “maintenance charge” permitted by the lease, we successfully clarified that the lease specifically contained the covenant to “keep in a good state of repair the common parts of the building, including an obligation to improve and replace as required”, and further “maintain the common parts and to carry out all work required, including repair and improvement of the main structure”.

As each leaseholder had agreed to pay the maintenance charge, which included all sums spent by the client under the terms of the clauses and covenants highlighted, we successfully identified that our client was entitled to recover the cost of the new fire alarm from the respondents through the service charge account.

The Tribunal found that the second installation option, preferred by our client, represented an appropriate solution that was robust, capable, and would not only would allow the temporary waking watch to stand down, but prevent a wholesale evacuation of the building where there was in fact no danger from fire. The cost of this system was some £20,000 more than that for Option 1, however the Tribunal concluded that in the circumstances, the higher cost was justified.

Associate Katie Edwards comments: “This case again reiterates the urgent prioritisation of ensuring building safety for residents, and that the appropriate measures for establishing both the reasonableness of cost and practical benefit do not always equate to selecting the cheapest option”.

* Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 (“the 1985 Act”).

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