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Leaseholders and fire safety

As part of WHQ’s What I’d Change about Housing and the Law feature, Will Atkinson asks what happens after the Right to Buy 

It may seem difficult to argue with the idea that a homeowner has the right to total control over their own property. This is all fine when that home is a three-bed detached but far less applicable to a single flat in an eleven storey tower block.

The Right to Buy has left a legacy of social housing tower blocks pepper potted with leaseholder flats. Councils and housing associations in ownership of these blocks are responsible for the safety of all those living within them, be they tenant or leaseholder. Ensuring safety can be a difficult task even in blocks where every unit remains the property of the landlord, with access to flats to undertake fire risk assessments or retrofit sprinkler systems difficult, but thankfully not impossible, to obtain.

Once a flat has been purchased, and the lease handed over, access can become close to impossible. Leaseholder law, combined with leases drafted to place responsibility on the resident for external doors, poses a challenge to landlords working to ensure fire safety of their tower blocks. From leaseholders refusing no-cost sprinkler installation, to the removal and subsequent unsafe fitting of external doors, the inability of landlords to access and work in leaseholder flats not only places the residents of that flat at risk but can impact on the fire safety of the entire block.

We need an in-depth review of leaseholder law to ensure that it is fit for purpose for modern ways of living.

Will Atkinson, policy and programmes manager, Community Housing Cymru

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