Service charges set to increase as flat owners face charges for fire door inspections
Yesterday we blogged about the new Fire Safety Act, setting out what it will mean in practical terms for leaseholders and managing agents. Today, we're taking a look at another important aspect of the legislation - service charges.
The new Act is a fundamental sea change in the law governing fire safety in blocks of flat; it is effectively a retrospective redraft of leases. In many ways it is a godsend to managing agents who have been struggling for years to get leaseholders to opt into voluntary fire door improvement and replacement programmes. Block managers can now work with freeholders and RMC clients to set up these programmes which then become a legitimate service charge expense and safety is improved for all. Previously the only powers to force such an issue was an Improvement Order issued by the Local Council under the Housing Act 2004.
Ringley have always supported Fire Door Action Week by circulating factsheets and have been seeking opt-in fire door upgrade programmes for years. But money could not be collected under the service charge, the opt-in response was pretty much zero, and councils were too overworked to act. And if one or two owners decided to up-grade or change their doors, then uniformity was lost devaluing the building. The new Act sweeps up all those issues and enforces improvements to flat front doors, ensuring they meet the required standard.
But the flip side for residents is that fire door upgrades along with regular fire door inspections (owners’ front doors and communal fire doors) will put service charge costs up. And enforcing the new rules won’t be easy. Imagine the problems that managing agents will now face trying to arrange for a contractor to inspect all fire doors in a block on a particular date – there is bound to be a huge failure rate resulting from owners not being in, trying to coordinate with their tenants or just denying access to their flat. All these issues will push up costs even further. So what’s the answer?
We would like to see a Government campaign to educate people and help them understand that they need to cooperate with this new legislation – otherwise it won’t work, and flat owners will be paying the price. Will the new rules mean more hassle for residents? Yes, probably. But will it make their homes safer? If residents can be persuaded to cooperate with the new inspection regime - yes, we certainly hope so.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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