Since 2002, leaseholders have had the legal right to take responsibility for managing their block under the Right to Manage. They are free to engage the services of a property manager of their choice or to self-manage their development. So far so good, but as Urban Owners point out in their online guide to RTM, with control comes responsibility. Once the RTM company has been set up, the directors must take on a number of obligations on behalf of their fellow flat owners. These responsibilities include:
- maintaining the building in good order
- ensuring the block is maintained / serviced in line with the lease
- ensuring the block is maintained / serviced in line with current health and safety regulations
Where they opt to self-manage, RTM company directors are legally responsible for compliance with the building regulations and all relevant health & safety legislation. They could be fined and/or prosecuted if they are found to be negligent. The safety and wellbeing of residents is in the hands of the RTM company directors and they should be fully aware of the importance of all aspects of building management and maintenance.
Where maintenance contracts are awarded or major works planned, it is vital to ensure that all contractors are suitably qualified to carry out the job they are being instructed to do. Here is a useful checklist to go through before taking on a new contractor:
- Is your chosen company qualified and registered to do the work? Electricians must be qualified to carry out the required project i.e NIC EIC. Anyone working with gas must be a registered ‘Gas Safe’ engineer.
- Ask for a list of references. Take the contact details of at least three clients whose projects were similar to yours. Follow up the references, asking how long ago each project was completed, whether it was satisfactory and if you can see it.
- Ask for copies of insurance certificates to ensure they are current. Contractors should be covered for public liability, worker’s compensation, and property damage coverage.
- Try to use a well-established business if possible and check it out with consumer protection officials to ensure there are no unresolved customer complaints on file.
In April, a London-based property manager was fined £40,000 when an inadequate fire risk assessment led to a fatal fire. Directors of RTM companies do not normally have prior property management experience and so may be less well aware of the fire safety regulations that apply to blocks than a professional manager would be.
Anyone with responsibility for managing a residential block must show diligence in servicing and maintaining the fire protection and life safety systems. Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all residential blocks must have a suitable and sufficient up-to-date Fire Risk Assessment (FRA). However, this document only assesses possible hazards and recommends remedial actions. Simply having an FRA on file does not protect residents: if any recommended actions are not taken, RTM company directors could also be in breach of the regulations and face fines and/or prosecution in the event of a fire.
FRA consultancies should be up-to-date with BSI specifications but they can only make recommendations based on their findings. This is where highly specialised contractors, such as fire alarm engineers or lift maintenance companies, step in. They will offer an impartial view on any FRA recommendations and any suggested remedial works.
Ultimately, RTM companies should ensure they are aware of all their compliance obligations to residents – and therefore only employ qualified and competent contractors.
Jamie Willsdon is Director of the Future Group