In 2017 the Grenfell fire shocked the country. The Building Safety Act 2022 is the government’s long-awaited response to the tragedy. The Act’s objective is to make homes across the country safer. And to accomplish its aims, it has made ground-breaking reforms to give residents and homeowners more rights, powers, and protections.
The changes the Act makes will hopefully lead to building owners better managing their buildings, and the construction industry will have a more precise framework to build homes. Although the Act focuses on safety in residential units, developers and landlords of mixed-use properties will also need to comply with the new rules. Ensuring fire safety and security is now the number one priority.
What is the Building Safety Act 2022?
The Grenfell Tower fire broke out in the 24-storey tower block on June 14, 2017. Seventy-two people died in the blaze, and a further 70 were injured. It was the worst residential fire since World War II and prompted the Grenfell Inquiry and the subsequent Building Safety Bill, which was turned into the Building Safety Act 2022 when it was passed as legislation.
The whole Act will not be fully enforceable until October 2024. However, some parts will be enforceable earlier, including a specific area that came into effect earlier this year on June 28, 2022.
The Building Safety Act 2022 establishes safety requirements for tower blocks or high-rise buildings, classified as any building that is at least 18 metres or seven stories high and that has two or more residential units.
The rules apply to buildings during the four phases of a building’s lifecycle: during the design, planning, and construction stages in addition to when tenants live in the building.
What does the Act do for residents of higher-risk buildings and homeowners?
Occupants living in blocks of flats will have more control over how the safety of their building is ensured. They will also be able to address worries about their building’s safety directly with the building owners and managers—the accountable persons—who have a duty to listen to residents and homeowners. The accountable persons are in charge of maintaining the common areas of a higher-risk building, contained in section 72 of the Act.
Residents can address their issues with the Building Safety Regulator if they feel they are being disregarded. Additionally, homeowners will have a more extended period of time (between six and 15 years) in which to file claims for building work they consider to be subpar.
Moreover, tenants in high-rise blocks will receive a resident engagement strategy.
What does the Act mean for building owners and landlords?
According to the Act, duty holders (including the principal designer and contractor) must monitor building safety risks. And during the design, construction, and completion of all buildings, chains of responsibility must be established.
Accountable parties must show that adequate and appropriate measures are in place for the higher-risk buildings in their care. They must also demonstrate that they are addressing building safety concerns.
Furthermore, the Act states that a new Building Safety Regulator will be established. This new regulator will be run by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to oversee building owners of high-rise buildings to ensure they are carrying out their building safety responsibilities.
Last, the Building Safety Act establishes that building owners and landlords are responsible for covering the costs associated with repairing their own structures. Anyone who does not fulfil their duties could be charged with a crime. To help resolve any disagreements, the Act also creates a New Homes Ombudsman, who will help with disputes that new homeowners may have with their building’s developers.
What responsibilities do landlords have for defective cladding?
By law, landlords are no longer permitted to send tenants the bill for replacing dangerous external cladding.
Also, landlords can only charge tenants a capped amount for addressing issues (not involving cladding) that may lead to a fire spreading or contribute to a building collapse. Several factors affect the capped amount, so landlords should obtain legal advice.
What does the Act mean for leaseholders?
The Act affords protections for qualifying leaseholders, including not contributing to the cost of removing dangerous cladding on buildings and capping the sum they have to pay towards fixing non-cladding defects on buildings. A qualifying leaseholder principally refers to people living in their own homes with no more than three UK properties.
The Act eradicates the idea that leaseholders should pay for historical safety defects; however, it outlines that those who have leases for at least seven years must pay the ongoing building safety costs.
What does the Act mean for the construction industry?
To ensure the future design, construction, and management of safer, higher-quality homes, the Act creates a straightforward and reasonable framework. It enhances the building regulatory framework through new standards that guarantee that all UK constructions are safe. The National Regulator for Construction Products must monitor and enforce adherence to the standards.
The construction industry will be made to improve safety through a new developer tax. And new rights to redress will ensure that any constructor that has committed past mistakes will retrospectively address these mistakes.
The construction industry will have to pay close attention to three areas: defective cladding, building safety, and building design.
Grenfell highlighted the issue of dangerous cladding, and the first part of the Building Safety Act that came into effect on June 28, 2022, dealt with this issue.
The statute of limitations for courts to review if materials used in the construction or conversion of residential property were defective has been extended (the time limit is now 30 years). Developers, building contractors, and owners may now be liable for hazardous structures.
In July 2022, a design and build contractor was ruled responsible for specifying and installing dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings between 2005 and 2008—the first court ruling on this issue. This case is expected to set a precedent for constructors and converters of residential blocks to be held legally accountable.
When the final construction is ready, the risks must be monitored by the accountable person to prevent the spread of fire that could result in a building collapse. The constructor may be responsible for repairing common areas in the building or parts of the structure and managing building safety risks. Any breach of duty could result in prosecution.
Changes made as a result of the Building Safety Act also involve stricter training requirements and a responsibility to pass necessary information onto a successor, as well as a duty to cooperate with the accountable person.
Constructors must prove building safety during three phases: planning, pre-construction, and pre-completion.
- The constructor must submit a fire statement during the planning stage.
- The constructor must prove compliance with fire regulations pre-construction.
- Before the building has been completed, the constructor must demonstrate compliance with fire regulations.
The information submitted during these three stages will show that a building can be managed safely and prove the accountability of those responsible.
The new Building Safety Act, which will come into full force at the end of 2024, sets a much higher bar for fire safety in high-rise buildings. Landlords, building owners, and constructors have a duty to ensure the safety of tenants in their buildings. Not doing so could result in being convicted of a crime. Protecting people’s lives and ensuring compliance is hugely important and requires the assistance of a fire security company with experience in safeguarding high-rise residential buildings.