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Grenfell Tower Fire – the duties and responsibilities of landlords and others

The Local Authority (Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council) and contractors who carried out refurbishment work at the Tower last year (Rydon Construction) are facing serious questions as are the manufacturers (Hotpoint) of the fridge freezer which started the fire. There have been calls for corporate manslaughter charges to be brought. Metropolitan Police Superintendent Fiona McCormack has confirmed that documents and materials have been seized from a number of organisations and criminal charges will be considered.

At a time like this it feels almost insensitive to think about the duties and responsibilities of landlords/managing agents/contractors/designers etc to tenants affected by this disaster. However, this needs to be examined and is something that tenants should always be aware of so they can best assert their rights.

The duties imposed upon landlords

The starting point is to know the duties imposed upon landlords by the relevant legislation and by common law principles:

The Occupiers Liability Act 1957 imposes a duty of care upon an occupier landlord (i.e. a landlord who retains control of part of the premises such as a landlord who controls the communal areas) to ensure that visitors to the property are reasonably safe.

The Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 places a duty on landlords to keep the structure and exterior of a property in repair and also to ensure that the installations which supply essential services remain in proper working order.

The Defective Premises Act 1972 imposes a duty of care to all persons who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects within the premises. It confirms that defects will be those arising from or because of acts/omissions by the landlord which breach their obligation to carry out repairs where the landlord knows or ought to know of the relevant defect.

If landlords have instructed managing agents then, it is possible that both the landlord and managing agent could find themselves as defendants to an action. It is also arguable that contractors who negligently carry out work could also find themselves named as defendants.

There are occasions where accidents are entirely unforeseeable and landlords could not have known about defects. However, where it can be shown that they should have been aware of an issue then liability will attach to them for loss or injury caused as a result.

Defective products

It may be that the investigations lead elsewhere and focus in on the cause of the fire. As previously mentioned it has been determined that the origin of the fire was a Hotpoint Fridge Freezer. The exact model was FF175BP (White).

The government has ordered an immediate examination of the model and also its Graphite equivalent FF175BG. The examination will be undertaken by technical experts in an attempt to help determine the cause of the incident.

The Consumer Protection Act 1987 is perhaps the key piece of legislation in this area. It holds a “producer” to be strictly liable for damage to property, personal injury and even fatalities caused by defective products.

The only requirement is to show that there was a defect and a causal link between the defect and the injury. As a result the results of the examination into the model in question could give a clear route for Claimants to bring their claims against Hotpoint directly.

Hotpoint have issued a product notice which asks anyone who owns such a model to complete an online form or to make contact with customer services on 0800 316 3826.

Residents of Grenfell Tower could have a claim against Hotpoint if the fridge freezer is found to have been defective as it has been determined as the cause of the fire.

From Hotpoint’s point of view they would seek to argue that the fire should not have spread beyond the flat where it started. This may lead focus elsewhere and in particular to the cladding.

The cladding installed on Grenfell Tower during its refurbishment has been the focus of a lot of criticism and speculation in the aftermath of the fire. The particular cladding used was said by the manufacturer to only be suitable for use on tower blocks up to 10 stories high as the polythene core is highly flammable.

Chancellor Philip Hammond said on 18 June that the type of cladding used was banned in the United Kingdom and in the aftermath of the fire, 120 tower blocks with similar cladding have failed fire safety tests.

If the subsequent enquiry to be chaired by Sir Martin shows that the cladding did not comply with building regulations and should not have been used during the refurbishment then victims of the fire will likely be able to bring claims against the various entities that allowed it to be used.