The corridors of my tower block are always blocked with things like buggies and furniture – are they a fire risk?

If you live in a tower block, it’s really important that corridors and common areas are kept clear.

In the case of an emergency, people need to be able to make a quick exit. Even a small delay — like tripping over a pot plant, or squeezing past a pushchair — can be the difference between life and death, especially if lots of tenants are all trying to get out of the building at once.

What does the law say?

There must be a clear route for escape during an emergency such as a fire. For England and Wales, the exact wording of the law can be seen here.

In Scotland The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982, section 93 says:

“It shall be the duty of the occupier to keep the common property free of—
(a) any combustible substances;
(b) anything which might obstruct egress from and access to the property in the event of fire.”

This means that you and your neighbours, the tenants, must keep the corridors clear. But the law goes on to say that an enforcement officer or a member of the fire service can remove anything presenting a danger.

Part of ensuring that there is a clear route is making sure that it is not blocked. Also, anything that could catch fire, like furniture, wall hangings, gas canisters, cardboard and paper must not be stored in these areas.

In England, the Housing Act 2004 and in Scotland the Housing (Scotland) Act 1987 might also be relevant. See ‘further information’ below.

Who is responsible?

Your tower block must have a designated ‘Responsible Person’ for fire safety — this is a legal requirement as set out in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, or RRO, for England and Wales and the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 for Scotland (where the ‘responsible person’ might also be called the ‘appropriate person’ or ‘duty holder’ – whatever the name it just means they are the one who must ensure your towerblock is fire safe).

Often your landlord or managing agent will be the Responsible Person.

Making sure common areas are clear from obstruction is just one of the Responsible Person’s duties: they must also ensure that all residents know of the fire safety policies and procedures, that the escape route is clearly marked, and that there is an up to date fire risk assessment for the block.

These duties are ongoing — as a tenant you should receive regular reminders of policies and procedures, and new tenants should be informed of them when they move in.

What action can I take?

If you are worried about your building’s common areas being blocked, you should take these steps:

Contact your landlord, managing agent, or Residents’ Association to find out who the Responsible Person is.

You can copy this letter if you like.

If there is no Responsible Person in place: notify them that this is a requirement as set out in the Fire Safety Regulatory Reform Order. You can send them this link to the relevant law.

If there is a Responsible Person, notify them that your corridor or common area is being blocked. Give them the details. You might include photographs.

Your building’s Responsible Person should speak to the tenants or people who are causing the safety breach and request that they remove the blockage or unsafe item.

If your Responsible Person has informed another tenant of their need to clear the common areas, but they carry on blocking them, you might consider another approach, like asking your landlord or managing agent for better storage provision. Joining or setting up a residents’ group might be a good start, so you can discuss what is needed and then approach your landlord together.

As well as complaining to your landlord/the responsible person, you might also contact the fire and rescue service.

You can use this letter.

You might possibly also contact the Environmental Health department of your local council.

Here is more information about that.

Further information

  • The Housing Act 2004 says that the local housing authority (LHA) must keep housing conditions in their area under review with a view to identifying any action that may need to be taken by them under the Act (section 3(1)).

    Any deficiencies identified will contribute to a hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This does not exclude the LHA’s own property.

Related guides

A woman throwing paper planes A woman throwing paper planes

Tools you can use

Contacting your landlord

Tips and letter templates to help you communicate with your landlord when there’s something wrong, or you want to find out more.
A woman holding a clipboard and looking at fire safety signs. Image by Professor Paul Wenham-Clarke A woman holding a clipboard and looking at fire safety signs. Image by Professor Paul Wenham-Clarke


What is a fire risk assessment?

Every tower block should have regular Fire Risk Assessments – they’re a legal requirement. But what does it mean for you, the tenant?
Two doors with a staircase between them. Photo by Nick Chalkiadakis Two doors with a staircase between them. Photo by Nick Chalkiadakis

Tools you can use

Making a formal complaint

If you have made a request to your landlord and you’re not getting results, then what can you do next to get things fixed?

Image credit

  • Clutter costs lives by Liz Lowe.