Are apartment blocks safe to live in?

Brett Alegre-Wood
August 30, 2017

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Grenfell fire, I sat in Singapore at lunch watching in mixed emotions knowing that I had actually lived a couple of years down the road from the site.

As much as we cannot bring them back, let's hope the political establishment finally provide the funding and focus required to ensure that all these buildings are not only made safe but hopefully they create a community that people are proud to live in. I really feel that it's incumbent on our politicians to provide livable communities for us all. Otherwise, why have a government? 

Sadly I do not hold out much hope as so far Theresa May's response has been appaling and bordering on inhuman.

I know it's a touchy subject but I was interested in whether high rises and in particular, high rises I had sold since 2002 were actually safe or were they being built using outdated and dangerous standards.

I am relieved to say that modern building techniques and standards mean that a fire like this is unlikely, the new build standards are comprehensive and cover a range of options beyond just the cladding.

Obviously, if the cladding is flammable at a certain temperature then that's not good and needs to be addressed.

Fire – not only a concern for property investors in high-rise apartments

A fire in the home would have to be the worst nightmare. I have 4 kids and in total 9 people live in our house so I couldn't imagine being in that situation.

The disaster at Grenfell has highlighted why. 80 died, more injured. An entire apartment block has been rendered unlivable and will have to be demolished. It is impossible not to feel grief for all those who have been affected.

But fire isn’t a fear that is limited to investors in high-rise apartment blocks. All buy-to-let properties must pass rigorous safety checks:

  • You must have gas safety certificates.
  • You must also ensure that electrical installations are in a safe condition when a tenant moves in, and continue to be so throughout the tenancy.
  • Portable Appliance Tests (PAT)
  • Any furniture you supply must comply with the Furniture & Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988.

I don’t want to get all political about this, but it appears that every local authority has cut corners to save money. A huge number of high-rise blocks have been found to have the same type of cladding as Grenfell. Social housing policy at its most inept, and with a cost not measured in pounds and pence, but tragically in human lives.

Are high-rises a greater risk of fire?

Grenfell has caused jitters among anyone who lives in a high rise including property investors. Thankfully deaths from high rises are rare. Home Office fire and rescue incident statistics, April 2016 to March 2017, paint a very different picture to the new perception that high-rise living is more dangerous where fire is concerned:

  • In 2006/7 there was a total of 364 deaths caused by a fire in the home.
  • In 2016/17 this had fallen to 213, at a ratio of 7 deaths per 1,000 ‘dwelling fires’.
  • Of these 213 deaths, just 3 were in high-rise apartment blocks. It is a rate of 4 deaths per 1,000 fires in a high rise – lower than for other types of housing.

Which apartment blocks to avoid?

Grenfell should never have happened. But the fact is that death is more likely to occur in a house fire than a high-rise fire. This tells us two things, high rises aren't as dangerous as we may all be thinking and that even if we live in a house we still need to be vigilant about fire safety. This still also applies to investors who have tenants staying in our properties,

It would seem that you should just avoid apartments in older blocks, especially those that were built as social housing. These blocks weren’t subject to the rigorous safety measures required of new build apartment blocks. Even where the apartment itself has been refurbished to a very high standard, it’s likely that the tower block hasn’t.

Fire Escapes (more than one), dry and wet risers installed (Dry risers allow fire services to pump water to the higher floors and wet risers have a tank on top and keep the sprinkler systems charged at all times. These are all things you should look out for when buying a high rise.

If you are concerned and want to chat about apartments, safety then feel free to give the team a call on +44 (0)207 923 6100.

Live with passion,

Brett Alegre-Wood


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