David Alexander comment: Paying a high price for fire and water damage

David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander. Picture: Contributed
David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander. Picture: Contributed
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It is difficult to comprehend that, no more than a few days after the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster, Glasgow’s iconic School of Art should once again have been engulfed in flames – just as a multi-million pound reconstruction project, following a fire four years earlier, was nearing completion.

It is difficult to comprehend that, no more than a few days after the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster, Glasgow’s iconic School of Art should once again have been engulfed in flames – just as a multi-million pound reconstruction project, following a fire four years earlier, was nearing completion.

It is a tragedy for Glasgow and one more blow for nearby Sauchiehall Street, where another major fire broke out recently and where property values have suffered from a demographic shift in the retail profile of the city centre and from the general downturn in “high street” shopping nationally.

But at least, unlike Grenfell, the Art School fire did not lead to any loss of life, even though there are a number of residential buildings in the vicinity of the property. And reassuringly there is little or no comparison between private, commercially-led rentals in Scotland and the likes of Grenfell Tower.

Every year, all electrical goods in a rented property have to undergo a PIR (periodic inspection report); any items failing the test have to be repaired or replaced. Rental properties must also undergo a regular EICR (electric installation condition report) which checks fuse boxes, wiring, etc.

There are further safety requirements, most relating to fire, in properties with an HMO (houses in multiple occupation) licence. For example, each HMO must be equipped with doors which close automatically (thus helping contain flames to a single room) while fire extinguishers and fire blankets are compulsory. All rooms also must have a smoke detector connected to the main electricity supply while a sprinkler system is compulsory in all HMO duplex flats (i.e. those on two levels or with a mezzanine floor).

An additional factor is a reduction in the “Friday night fag fire”. This scenario saw a tenant (or owner-occupier for that matter) fall asleep watching late-night television with an alcoholic drink in one hand and a lighted cigarette in the other. Often fire damage was limited but at the other extreme such incidents could, and did, lead to loss of life. Nowadays around 80 per cent of adults are non-smokers and the vast majority of tenants who continue to smoke respect the standard leasing condition which prohibits smoking within a rented house or flat.

Indeed, internal damage is just as likely to be caused by a combination of human error and water as by fire. One example relates to a tenant taking a momentarily nap while running a bath and inadvertently falling asleep. By the time he or she wakes up, water has overflowed from the bath onto the bathroom floor and seeped into other parts of the property and possibly to the flat below. The situation is compounded when the tenant does not have home contents insurance and discovers that any damage caused by the water overlow is not covered by the landlord’s building insurance.

However, while the landlord may not be liable it is obviously preferable to try and prevent any damage occurring in the first place. Therefore, while not wanting to encourage tenant complacency, a worthwhile addition to a property’s general features could be those sensors (relatively inexpensive to install) that automatically switch off taps when bath water reaches a certain level. As a substantial investment, residential rental property can never have too many safety measures.

Good and bad news for landlords. According to a report, from Hamptons International, the average cost of privately renting a home in Scotland has fallen by 5.3 per cent to £584 per calendar month. Conversely, more people who want a second home are said to be taking to renting rather than buying.

Across the UK, Scotland is second only to south-west England in the rising demand for rented second homes. Apparently those desirous of a city pied a terre or a weekend coastal retreat are concluding that renting is also simpler while the property can be easily and inexpensively dispensed with should their circumstances change. Largs, Girvan, Montrose as rental hot spots? Who would have thought it, eh?

- David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander