FOLLOWING the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower North Kensington on 14 June 2017 victims are understandably looking for answers as to how such a tragedy could be allowed to happen.

A consensus appears to be emerging that one reason the fire, which is thought to have claimed the lives of 79 people, may have spread so rapidly is because new cladding fitted to the building’s exterior during refurbishment works was flammable.

Cladding in similar blocks across the country is now being tested. There has also been considerable discussion about the fact that a sprinkler system was not fitted when the refurbishment works took place.

One of the questions emerging out of the tragedy, which is the subject of much discussion among housing lawyers representing tenants, is whether current legal remedies available to tenants who wish to take action against their landlord over potential hazards are sufficient. As has been well documented in the press, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation had raised concerns from tenants about fire safety in Grenfell Tower long before the tragic events of 14 June 2017.

Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, tenants can bring an action in the County Court against their landlord if their property is in a state of disrepair. But the use of a hazardous material for external cladding would most probably not fall under the category of disrepair, nor would a failure to install adequate fire safety equipment.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and the Defective Premises Act 1972, tenants who have suffered loss or injury as a result of a statutory nuisance or negligence can bring a civil action against their landlord, but many lawyers are of the view that a pre-emptive action, to force the landlord to carry out work to remove a potential risk before loss or injury has arisen, cannot be brought under either Act.

Then there is the Housing Act 2004 which established a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) and places a duty on local authorities to review local housing conditions and to carry out inspections and take enforcement action where health or safety hazards are found.

The problem with this legislation is that local authorities cannot take enforcement action against themselves so it does not provide an effective remedy for local authority tenants.

Local authorities are however expected to incorporate the HHRS when reviewing the condition of their own stock. This means that, potentially, local authority tenants concerned about health and safety could bring an action for judicial review against the local authority if it failed to ensure that the HHRS had been complied with but there is doubt as to whether such an action would succeed and judicial review claims are notoriously expensive and hard to bring and the availability of legal aid is much restricted.

Another possible remedy being discussed by housing lawyers is for a tenant concerned about health and safety risks in their property to make a homelessness application to the local authority on the grounds that the property it is not reasonable to continue to occupy due to the risks posed.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy tenants of tower blocks are understandably fearful for their safety, it is very much to be hoped that landlords will take immediate steps to ensure that these properties are safe, and provide alternative accommodation where necessary, without the need for tenants to take action themselves.

Laura Coyle is Laura Coyle is a solicitor

at Oxford

legal firm Turpin and Miller