Do you own a building that is sitting vacant? If so, did you know that fire safety in empty buildings is your legal responsibility; the same as if you occupied the building? You continue to be responsible until the building is occupied once again.
We’ve all seen the news reports. Early January, snow on the ground, and retail businesses up and down the country are closing down. Since the recession, we’ve grown accustomed to the sight of boarded-up shop fronts.
As a landlord of a vacant property, the loss of rent and responsibility towards a technically useless building is frustrating. But it’s also annoying to other businesses in the neighbourhood and can create security concerns.
So, what will make potential tenants/purchasers want to rent or buy your property, in preference to other similar premises? Your investment in refurbishment will help to some extent, if only to make it stand out against competing properties. You may be open to considering a price reduction or rent discount. Great for the buyer/tenant, not so great for you.
Managing risks is appealing to future owners
It is hugely appealing to new owners/tenants if you can demonstrate you’re fully compliant on all aspects of fire safety in your empty buildings. All health and safety matters should also be taken care of.
Viewings often go more smoothly when the interested parties witness the care and consideration you have taken towards your property. What’s more, you’ll be able to help the new owner understand his responsibilities to you. He must also understand how to be fully legally compliant.
As well as showcasing your building, good fire safety in empty buildings protects your assets while empty. Arson, criminal damage and theft is more common in empty buildings than those which are occupied. And you have a ‘duty of care’ to anyone entering the building – invited or not. Legal liability can rest with the owner should someone in the property suffer an injury.
What you need to know about fire safety in empty buildings
You still have to maintain systems and carry out your legal duties regarding fire protection within the property. This includes service regimes and repair of equipment where it is faulty. Remember, your insurance company will take great interest in any failure to meet compliance.
Here’s a reminder of the fire protection systems that you must maintain while your building is empty:
Fire Risk Assessment (FRA)
Although empty, you must carry out a FRA which will identify all risks in the building. The aim of the FRA is to reduce or eliminate these risks, if possible. A FRA can be a simple task if the building adheres to current building regulations; if not, it can be far more complex and expensive to correct problems.
When the FRA is completed, you can decide what provisions you will need to secure the building.
Fire Alarm Systems
A fully functioning fire alarm system is essential. It provides an early warning sign that there is an issue in your building.
Without an adequate fire alarm system, the first signs of a situation are usually when someone sees flames. By this stage, the fire will have already caused significant damage. You could find it’s too late to recover much of value from the building. Worse still, you stand a good chance of losing the building altogether. And that’s if the passer-by can even be bothered to raise the alarm!
A burnt out building poses two main problems.
- It will require investment to rebuild it
- You will be unable to sell or rent it in the immediate future
So, investment in compliance ensures you have the best possible chance of protecting your income. You should also consider having third party monitoring installed on your system. It acts as a further safeguard and guarantees a fast and experienced response to any problem.
When fire breaks out, the electrical supply to the building is invariably compromised. A loss of power to lighting circuits makes safe escape from the building extremely difficult. It also hampers the work of emergency services accessing and manoeuvring around the building.
The installation and maintenance (according to British Standards) of emergency lighting has two main benefits:
- It increases the chance of your building being saved during a fire
- It’s a clear sign to prospective customers that you understand your obligations and care about the property. This will set you apart from those who don’t.
Fire Sprinklers/Wet & Dry Risers
In empty buildings, it’s not always practicable to retain this equipment. If you are in this situation, you should drain the systems and isolate any water supplies.
However, in some cases you will be able to retain it. If so, you must maintain this life–saving and property protecting equipment appropriately. In the UK, there are both legal and British Standard requirements. They will not only protect your asset whilst empty, but also your ability to generate future income.
Fire doors are one of the most effective forms of fire-stopping equipment, if used properly.
In occupied buildings, fire doors are a key part of a fire safety system and effectively hinder the spread of fire. In an empty building where fire is likely to go unnoticed, fire doors can greatly reduce the devastating impact.
Here are our top three tips:
- Keep fire doors firmly shut at all times otherwise they’re redundant
- Carry out regular checks on the condition of the door and all ironmongery (which should be adequately fire rated)
- When you’re checking the doors, also check they’re not blocked by anything that could prevent them closing fully
If you have carried out a Fire Risk Assessment, it will say how many fire extinguishers you need, what type, and where they should be positioned. Your insurance company will also have a policy on the extent to which you are expected to include fire extinguishers. There are many types of fire extinguisher so always seek the advice of an expert. A third-party accredited fire safety supplier has experience in this and other fire safety matters.
And if you do have extinguishers in your empty building, make sure you maintain them according to British Standards.
Fire protection is essential to the fire safety of empty buildings. It also ensures you comply with the law and the requirements of your insurance company. For practical advice and assistance on any of these points, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help. Remember, quality in compliance is our business.
Senior Sales Executive
Tim is one of our Regional Fire Safety Advisors for the Loughborough Service Centre with 15 years experience in the fire safety industry and previous extensive career in Facilities Management.
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