With the building safety reform very much at the forefront of block managers' minds and new regulations en-route, Fixflo put together a panel of residential property management experts including Andrew Bulmer, CEO of The Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM), Nigel Glen, CEO of The Association of Residential Managing Agents (ARMA) and Shaun Lundy, Director of Strategy and Innovation at Tetra Consulting, to talk about what block managers can expect from the new legislation – and how to prepare for it. A snapshot of the issues it dealt with is included in this article.
Which of the key aspects of the new Building Safety laws will affect block managers?
Although the Building Safety Bill is still in the draft stage (it’s likely to be passed through Government in the autumn but nothing is certain at this point), there is a raft of proposed changes but we’re not sure yet how many of them will come into effect. For block managers, the two most significant components of the bill are likely to be the creation of a building safety manager (BSM) and the questions surrounding who will pay for the position. It’s anticipated the next draft of the bill will outline more clearly the responsibilities of the building safety manager but there are already question marks over how the position will be financed.
Likely, it’s leaseholders that will foot the bill but whether that’s charged as a separate building safety charge or incorporated into the existing service charge mechanism is proving contentious. Either way, the new bill could make leaseholders spend more on their property than before, and the service of a BSM could become quite expensive. Block managers could expect pushback from leaseholders on this issue; the best way to handle such concerns is by being as transparent as possible.
For independent managing agents with a smaller portfolio, it would be impractical to maintain an in-house BSM. It is expected that these managing agents will outsource this role to specialist consultants who will have the required competencies and skills.
How can a block manager work best alongside the building safety manager?
Again, navigating the prospective relationship is likely to be a work in progress. If a BSM is expected to consult every aspect of safety, even down to issues like a bicycle blocking a stairwell, there will be an overlap between their role and that of the existing block manager. Trying to be approachable and amenable is the recommended way to approach this period of integration, as well as being prepared for plenty of additional admin. While residents may be told to contact their BSM about certain matters, there is little to stop them from contacting both the BSM and the block manager, leading to situations where there are often two hares in the race. A close working relationship between the two roles will be key to successful integration.
What can a block manager and a block management company do in the short and long term to position themselves to comply with the new requirements?
Remain agile and open to the fact that your position may change and be encroached upon. Develop a mix of hard skills and soft skills to change with the changing situation and stay informed as to changes and legislation as and when regulators update it. This is a moveable feast for everyone and will take some time to get right.
How can a block manager best prepare residents for the forthcoming changes?
Transparency is key; keep in regular contact with your residents and leaseholders and make yourself approachable so that you can myth bust as and when it’s required. Also, be prepared that while some residents may be passionate and engaged, there will be others who treat building safety a bit like the safety information given in air travel – when you get on an aircraft, you may not really pay attention to the safety leaflet and announcements. Passengers assume the pilot is doing a good job and don’t want to learn any more about it.
When it comes to engaging residents, you should pivot your approach to cater to both types of residents and every flavour in between.
To learn more about resident engagement, check out this on-demand webinar entitled Resident Voice: Rebuilding Trust Post-Grenfell.