Ellisons Solicitors has won a significant victory for flat owners fighting against massive fire patrol (waking watch) bills.
Ellisons was instructed by Cherrydown Management Limited, the Residents’ Management Company responsible for a development called The Morello Quarter, Basildon, to challenge an enforcement notice which required it to put in place a waking watch within one month.
The notice, from Essex Fire and Rescue Service, was issued after a 2020 safety inspection report found the block of flats, in Clay Hill Road, had features which posed a ‘high risk to life’.
Cherrydown Management was also told it must install a new alarm system and that, while it was waiting for that to be installed, a waking watch was required to patrol the corridors and exteriors of the development at all times in case a fire broke out.
Ellisons Solicitors successfully appealed the notices for Cherrydown Management, arguing: 1. The time limit of one month to engage a waking watch was unreasonable and unrealistic; and 2. The costs were financially impossible for it to support.
Ian Seeley, Dispute Resolution Partner said: “To the best of our knowledge, this successful appeal is the first-of-its-kind for flat owners across the UK faced with very high waking watch bills.
While the management company agreed that the principle behind the requirement for a waking watch was sound, the demand to implement it within one month took no account of the company’s or leaseholders’ circumstances and, set against the context that it would cost £13,000 per week, was an unreasonable requirement. The court ruled the deadline for the waking watch to be introduced should be extended by six months from the date of the appeal decision, as this was a reasonable period to allow for proper statutory consultations and the collection of funds from leaseholders. However, as the new fire alarm will be fitted before that deadline, the waking watch will not, in practice, be needed.
This judgment did not say that the decision to impose a waking watch was unreasonable, and this was not one of the Management Company’s arguments. All parties accepted the fire authority’s officers, at all times, acted with nothing other than the best of intentions. However, the key takeaway from this judgment is that a fire authority must take into account the specific circumstances of a building, its residents, and the Management Company’s funding arrangements when issuing an enforcement notice. There cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to enforcement notices.”
Jennifer Viccars, 32, Chair of Morello Quarter Residents’ Management Company, praised Ellisons Solicitors for its sensitive handling of the appeal.
She said: “Ellisons Solicitors were incredibly patient and understanding throughout the whole appeal, taking the time to ensure I understood the legal jargon involved. They were very accessible and their expertise and help is greatly appreciated at what was a very stressful time for us all.”