Property ownership and management risks

There are a lot of different groups of people for a property owner or manager to consider when it comes to risk management, including commercial and/or residential tenants, workers and the public. The attention needed for each building is likely to be unique.

When asbestos containing materials are disturbed or damaged fibres may be released into the air and those fibres, if inhaled, can cause serious, often fatal, chronic diseases. Failure to establish whether your premises contain asbestos, and acknowledge the potential hazard before any building work (whatever the size of the task) is done can lead to severe consequences for all involved, whether it's illness or prosecution and large fines. 

Building owners have a duty to manage the asbestos risk. Don't leave it to the last minute and make sure there is clear communication about the hazard between tenants, workers within your business and any contractors that you use.

In multiple tenancy buildings (whether residential or commercial) there will often be common areas that provide access while also serving as emergency escape routes. They can also be the areas tenants are most likely to leave bulky goods, such as bicycles, and waste materials, creating fire and health and safety hazards, as well as an obstruction in the event of an evacuation. Making sure that common areas are ‘fire safe’ is an important part of your duties as a property owner or manager.

For example:

  • If you have provided gas equipment, ensure that arrangements are in place for the annual “landlords” gas safety check in accordance with the Gas Safety (Installation & Use) Regulations.
  • If you are not legally obliged to provide fire safety equipment, encourage the tenants to provide suitable fire safety equipment in their parts of the premises, e.g. fire extinguishers, smoke detectors (where these are not provided already).
  • Do not allow tenants to store goods or waste materials within hallways and stairways which form part of the designated fire escape routes. Care in the selection of potential tenants may help with this and external storage (fire) hazards.
  • Seemingly benign redecoration can increase the fire hazard, so you should make it clear that tentnats must always seek permission.
  • Periodically check for, record and take action on any fire hazards in communal areas and on escape routes.
  • Do not allow fire exit doors to be blocked by goods inside or vehicles/goods outside, nor fitted with locks or bolts which could prevent escape in the event of a fire.
  • Take measures to prevent vehicle access routes, which might need to be used by the fire brigade, from being obstructed.

Common areas must be considered as part of the fire risk assessment for the premises. For further information and guidance on fire risk assessments, please access the document below.

When it comes to assessing the vulnerability of your business and the precautions that you have taken to defend it, cyber threats should be a prominent consideration for any modern business. Incidents of cyber theft and disruption are on the increase and businesses need to ensure that their systems and the data that they hold are sufficiently protected against such attacks.
Regular reviews of the wiring and protective devices within your premises, especially in older buildings, can help reduce the risk of fire. Wiring and protective devices may not match up to current standards and, if your tenants’ activities change or electrical installations and equipment advance, there is a risk that they will become overloaded. It is only by inspection, by a competent electrician or electrical contractor, that these issues can be found and the danger removed by remedial work.

The popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles is only increasing and so there's a need to adapt working environments to suit the hazards they come with.

The battery packs in these vehicles contain a lot of stored energy which can be released in a number of potentially hazardous ways, e.g. if the battery is damaged or faulty, or recharged incorrectly. Many electric cars use nickel-metal hydride batteries, but some use lithium-ion batteries which have been known to ignite (due to thermal runaway) as a result of faulty manufacture or damage.

Escape of water can be described as water from the mains water supply system escaping from a pipe, tank, appliance, etc into the property. This often takes the form of a burst pipe. In comparison, other forms of water damage can be caused by, for instance, river flooding, coastal flooding, surface water flooding or storm damage.

Deliberate ignition is thought to be one of the most common causes of serious fires within the UK, particularly at commercial premises. A property that doesn’t have sufficient on-site fire safety and security precautions can become a tempting target for arsonists and vandals.

Controlling how waste materials are stored is just one way of significantly reducing the risk of fire. Waste bins, skips, pallets, crates and similar combustible goods left outside of buildings are particularly prone to being set alight and, if they’re close to a building when lit, the fire can quickly spread inside.

As well as abiding by rules about waste storage, tenants should know not to have goods and flammable items, like wooden or plastic pallets, in the yards or service roads on your premises.

It's vital that first safety equipment works as intended should a fire occur.

Early detection of a fire can be vital to save lives, but it's important even in vacant buildings. Quick action can help save more of the property and prevent fire from spreading to neighbouring structures.

Consequently, equipment and installations designed to promptly raise the alarm if there's a fire should be subject to frequent recorded checks with contracts set up with suitable and competent firms for servicing and inspections.

Modern buildings are constructed so that, if a fire were to start, it should remain contained, at least for a certain amount of time which allows people to escape. After construction though, there are many ways that the protection built into a building can be weakened due to modifications and activities within it.

For instance, where pipes, ducts, cables, service shafts, etc. pass through walls and floors, unprotected openings may get created. These openings can allow smoke and fire to pass through, contradicting any fire resistance that the wall or floor might otherwise have.

In recent years we've seen an increasing amount of areas around the UK affected by floods. Although we cannot control the weather, and we cannot stop the sea levels rising, there's risk management action you can take to help you deal with hazards from flooding.

There are many types of fire hazard that can be introduced into a building by a tenant. With heating appliances, it’s often not so much the actual type of heating appliance that’s the issue, but how and where it’s used. This is particularly true with portable heaters.

Restricting the type of heating appliances permitted within your building can be one way of reducing the risk of fire. What's permitted should then be maintained and inspected and the environment in which it can be used carefully prescribed.

To limit the fire risk from heating, check your safety measures for: electrical installations and the storage of flammables and explosives.

Legionellosis is a collective term for diseases caused by Legionella bacteria, including the most serious, Legionnaires’ disease. Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia that anybody can become infected with.

The bacteria is present in natural water but it may also be found in man-made water systems such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers, and hot and cold water systems. Employers and anyone in control of premises (e.g. landlords) have a legal duty to understand and manage legionella risks.

All lifting equipment, including passenger lifts, wheelchair lifts, escalators, window cleaners’ cradles, hoists, anchor points and elevating work platforms that you may use for maintenance and decorating etc., need to be regularly serviced, maintained as necessary and thoroughly examined by a competent person.

Arrangements for maintenance, servicing and thorough examination (including frequency) must be decided by a competent person, taking into account whether the equipment is covered by the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER) and/or the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER). The determination should also have regard to published HSE guidance, including that specific to passenger lifts used by people at work and passenger lifts, escalators, moving walkways and stair lifts used by people who are not at work.

Power supply or telecommunications disruption caused by a lightning strike can be very problematic for tenants and, in turn, cause issues for you. Even if the strike occurs some distance away, your building might be affected.
Incorporating certain features or specific materials before sourcing and construction has started can prove to be an economic alternative to introducing hazard controls after or during completion of building work. Additionally, those built-in features may be more effective than retrospective measures at limiting the likelihood, or at least reducing the magnitude, of injuries and property damage incidents.

While your tenants may be responsible for the containment of oils and pollutants that they use on the site, it’s likely you also have some legal obligations to ensure that your property and the activities that take place within it don’t pollute the surrounding environment. Making appropriate arrangements for the potential pollutants on the site can go a long way to reducing the chance of a pollution incident. 

Identify what might lead to a leak or spillage and consider how you would limit its spread and prevent it from entering drains, water courses, etc. Then, determine procedures for the safe disposal of contained and recovered materials.

Due to recent changes in legislation, the matter of landlords’ responsibility for fire safety in residential properties is now quite complicated. It can vary not only within the different countries of the UK but also from town to town, and even from street to street.

If you are the owner of a property that includes any residential areas then you should identify and understand the licensing schemes and regulations that apply to it, including:

  • what, for legal, licensing and registration purposes, in the UK country involved, comprises a ‘House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)’
  • when and where ‘Selective Licensing’ and The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations apply
  • the relevant fire safety legislation
  • Housing Acts
  • how the Housing Health & Safety Rating system works.

Even where you aren't legally obliged to provide fire safety equipment, we recommend that you actively encourage tenants to have items like fire blankets and to ensure British Standard 'kite marked' smoke detectors are installed and in good working order.

To put off or stop even the boldest and most creative intruders, a combination of security features need to be built into your site. The four methods - the four Ds - you should combine to make a site unattractive to intruders and make life difficult for those that still might make an attempt at entering, are:

  • Deter – make premises unattractive to thieves, arsonists and squatters. This can be done with warning signs, lighting, visible detection equipment coupled with alarms and by concealing (or, better, removing) theft-attractive items.
  • Detect – have measures/equipment in place to allow an immediate response to an incident, such as motion detectors connected to alarms, CCTV linked to a remote monitoring centre and on-site guards.
  • Delay – slow the progress of intruders. There will be a limit to the amount of time they’re prepared to stay on the site for and layers of security features can reduce their speed so that they won’t reach their target point, and get out, before time is up. Smoke/fog systems are particularly good for this tactic.
  • Deny – install physical barriers that prevent unauthorised access. From topped fencing to window bars and safes, there is a wide variety of products available. To prevent theft of a particular item, moving it off the site can be an effective way to put a stop to their endeavours.

While ‘smoke-free’ legislation across the UK does make it necessary for all businesses to display ‘no smoking’ signs in buildings and vehicles and to make sure people don’t smoke in enclosed work or shared spaces, they aren’t legally obliged to provide a smoking shelter.

If you do decide to install a smoking shelter at your property, it must be safe and suitable for the purpose, comply with the relevant legislation, and it mustn’t increase the fire hazard on the premises.

Hazards can come from above and below when it comes to trees, posing a risk to health and safety as well as having the potential to cause significant property damage.

Roots can break through all sorts of ground surfaces, leading to costly repair work and, in the meantime, tripping up people or damaging property sitting above or that is moved over it, including vehicles. Falling leaves block drains and gutters, causing water damage, and make outdoor walkways slippery so that pedestrians are more likely to fall.

During strong winds, there's a risk of branches breaking off, as well as damaged or diseased trees coming down, and falling onto people, vehicles or roofs.

Get the trees within your site inspected on a regular basis by a suitable and competent aboriculturalist and try to gain support and coordinate with your neighbours.

When a property is left unoccupied for some time the level of risk from certain hazards can increase. For instance, if it seems no one has been in a building for a significant amount of time, vandals, and even squatters, might feel more comfortable entering. It should also not be forgotten that a lot of risks present in occupied buildings, like extreme weather and electrical fires, will still be an issue after the people and contents are gone.

Additionally, don't think that because the furniture and equipment have been removed that no thief will be interested in it. There will be materials in the structure, such as copper wire, that can be sold as scrap and, while that might not cost much to re-purchase, the damage caused in getting at it can be pricey to repair.

It's important that, as well as security and property protection, health and safety is given just as much thought as in occupied buildings. Laws in the UK can make a property owner liable if someone is injured or killed on their premises - even if they weren't supposed to be there.

Vehicle movements in close proximity to buildings and people can put them at risk of serious damage or injury, so measures must be taken to keep vehicles, such as delivery vans, tenants’ vehicles or contractors’ plant, at a safe distance.

When a property gets damaged due to water, it can cause significant interruption, whatever sort of business is operating from it. For property owners and managers, it can spell even more difficulties as, in addition to getting repairs done, you may also need to arrange for the tenants to be moved to alternative premises.

On top of that, there could be no way of avoiding loss of income (as tenants may not be expected to pay rent) during a period where spend is likely to have significantly increased.

Whether it's due to a leak from frozen plumbing or damage to roofing after a storm, water penetrating a building can cause a variety of long-lasting problems, including structural instability and exposure to hazardous bacteria. Fortunately, there are a range of precautions that can be taken to avoid incidents of water damage and the associated issues that come with it.