Vaddaram v East Lindsey District Council [2012] UKUT 194 (LC)

A recent decision of the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) has endorsed the value of the LACORS guidance on fire safety.

Background

Mr V owned a one bed flat carved out of a larger house. The Council made a prohibition order preventing the use of the flat altogether as residential accommodation on the basis that it had a category 1 fire safety hazard under the HHSRS. This assessment was made on the basis that the exit from the bedroom was through the kitchen and living room and that the bedroom windows were unsuitable for the purposes of fire escapes. Before they would rescind the notice the council sought a revision of the layout and the fitting of a new fire alarm system. They also served and improvement notice on this basis.

RPT Hearing

Mr V appealed to the RPT. The basis of the appeal was that the flat conversion was carried out in accordance with a planning and building consent and so it complied with building regulations. He lost this appeal.

Upper Tribunal

A renewed appeal was lodged to the Upper Tribunal with permission from it, the RPT having refused permission. This was lodged on the basis of the LACORS Fire Safety Guidance which the escape routes from the bedroom were argued to be in line with. While this guidance was not before the RPT the Upper Tribunal held that it should have been and, importantly, that the Council should have put it before the RPT. This failure was a key element in the granting of the appeal.

It was noted that the property had changed in character and that escape from the bedroom did not now require an occupant to pass through two other rooms but just one, the kitchen and sitting room having been combined into one open-plan room. The LACORS guidance gives a set of criteria for determining whether a window is a suitable means of escape. The Council and RPT had apparently not considered these criteria at all and both were criticised for not doing so. The Upper Tribunal did consider the criteria and found that the windows satisfied these criteria and also the Building Regulations as a means of escape. Accordingly, the Prohibition Order was quashed.

Discussion

I have been a long proponent of this guidance so I am feeling slightly smug as I write this. However, the point is clear. Many Council’s ignore this valuable guidance. Failure to do so constitutes a ground of appeal. From a landlord’s point of view it is the best guide you have to the appropriate standards of fire safety and the Upper Tribunal agrees!