Whether you own a single buy-to-let property or manage an extensive portfolio, you still owe the same duty of care to your tenants and the public.
Property Owners Liability Insurance will protect your potential legal liabilities as a property owner, but you still need to manage risks appropriately.
Blackpool Firm Fined After Balcony Collapse
Blackpool Coastal Housing Ltd appeared in court on 1st August 2014 after being prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) following an incident at a block of flats in Blackpool on 29th May 2012.
Preston Crown Court heard that a resident at the block narrowly avoided being killed or seriously injured when a second-floor walkway he was standing on collapsed.
Fortunately, the resident felt the balcony move beneath his feet and was able to unlock his front door and dive inside, only to look back and find that the walkway had collapsed entirely.
The victim commented afterwards:
“I made complaints about the condition of the balcony several times before the collapse as it was leaning to the extent that I felt the need to walk near to the wall because of the slope.
“When the balcony fell away from under my feet, a gas pipe also ruptured, and I could see gas escaping. I waited in my flat and was later rescued by the emergency services.
“After the collapse, I was put into a guesthouse for several months and stayed in a total of five different rooms, which totally unsettled me. The whole affair completely ruined my summer and my daughter’s 21st birthday.”
Responsibility for the Flats passed from Blackpool Council
Blackpool Coastal Housing gained responsibility for the block from Blackpool Borough Council in January 2007.
The Court heard that the Council had previously arranged for a structural survey of the property after it was noticed that a number of the fixings for the handrails had pulled away from the walls and a need for significant repairs was identified.
However, Blackpool Coastal Housing failed to carry out any repairs – despite many of the senior staff who knew about the structural issues transferring to the new organisation, along with relevant files, when it was set up in 2007.
Temporary Repair Was Inadequate
The court was also told that the company finally appointed a consultant structural engineer to design a temporary propping solution for the balconies in September 2008.
However, his recommendations were also not implemented and instead, temporary scaffolding was erected.
Blackpool Coastal Housing eventually started work to replace these balconies in May 2012. During the project, the site manager reported his concerns that all the balconies at Newby Place may be unsafe, but again the firm failed to take any action.
Gamble Doesn’t Pay Off
Blackpool Coastal Housing Ltd was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £27,821.25 in prosecution costs after pleading guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.
HSE Inspector Michael Mullen said:
“The emergency services had to rescue several people from their properties as a result of the collapse, but it’s incredible no one was hurt. We could easily have been dealing with multiple deaths.
“It’s breath-taking that Blackpool Coastal Housing was prepared to take a prolonged gamble with the safety of its tenants at three blocks of flats.
The company fell significantly below minimum legal standards for safety, and made a series of bad decisions in its response to the concerns about the balconies over several years.”
Real Damage Is Far More Than Court Fine
While the firm suffered a significant fine, this does not include the potential additional liability exposure from a stress-related illness and alternative accommodation costs.
If you own or manage property, your Landlord Insurance policy must make adequate provision for Property Owners Liability claims.
You should also ensure that a robust Health and Safety Management Programme is in place working hand-in-glove with your property inspections to ensure that risks are identified and managed appropriately before matters become serious.
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