Nobody would dispute the importance of fire safety in buildings, particularly in blocks of flats. The Lakanal House fire in Southwark, London in 2009, when six people died, was a reminder of how deadly fire can be. Landlords are under an obligation to carry out Fire Risk Assessments to their properties. Fire safety standards have changed and improved over time. Safety equipment and safety features like fire doors and escape routes, which were up to date when a block was built or last refurbished, can become out of date. Responsible landlords naturally want to ensure fire safety is to the most modern standards.
But then there is the question of who should pay for all this? Landlords will want to pass on the cost to leaseholders through the service charge. Leaseholders though might want to look carefully at their leases to see if this is something that can really be passed on to them. Almost all leases allow landlords to pass on the reasonable cost of repairs as service charge. But fire safety works may not be repairs at all but may be improvements. Does the lease allow the freeholder to charge for improvements? If not, then the landlord will have to pay for the fire safety works. Some leases also allow landlords to pass on as service charge expenses which arise out of statutory obligations. That might catch the cost of fire risk assessments, but it might not catch the cost of some or all of the actual works themselves.
“Right to buy” leaseholders of local authorities amongst others are often charged substantial sums for fire safety improvements through service charge when this is not payable under the lease. When the proposal to charge is made, leaseholders would be well advised to see whether they are really liable to pay.