Bubble Concrete: A guide for commercial landlords and tenants

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Bubble concrete has been in the news a lot recently, with growing concerns over its use in a wide range of public buildings, including schools and hospitals. However, the issue goes much wider than that, with bubble concrete having been used in a lot of commercial property as well, particularly those built between the 1950s and 1980s.

As a result, many commercial landlords and tenants are now starting to worry about whether bubble concrete was used in the construction of their properties and, where it was, what they need to do about it.

In this article, we explain some of the key things landlords and tenants need to know around bubble concrete. We also cover important background information, including what bubble concrete is, how dangerous it is, who is responsible for dealing with it, the legal risks and what actions landlords and tenants can take.

Need help with bubble concrete in commercial properties? Please contact Rachael Spalton who will be happy to advise.

Key points for landlords to know

  • Bubble concrete in your property could pose a safety risk to tenants, therefore placing you in potential legal jeopardy
  • If you know or have reason to suspect your property contains bubble concrete, you should have this checked by a qualified structural engineer
  • Bubble concrete will generally only need to be replaced if it is creating a safety risk
  • You will normally be responsible for replacing bubble concrete if there is a risk, but you may be able to pass some or all of the costs onto your tenants
  • Failing to take suitable action to deal with any safety risks in your property could result in both regulatory and civil legal action
  • The presence of bubble concrete in your property could affect your insurance
  • You should check your lease agreements to make sure you understand your responsibilities and liabilities

Key points for tenants to know

  • Your landlord is required to provide a safe building for you and anyone else using the property
  • If there is reason to believe bubble concrete is present, then your landlord should take suitable steps to assess the risk
  • You may need to contribute to the cost of having bubble concrete replaced or repaired
  • The presence of bubble concrete in your property could affect your insurance
  • You should check your lease agreement to make sure you understand your responsibilities and liabilities

What is bubble concrete?

Bubble concrete is the name commonly used for the building material more properly known as Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC). Unlike normal concrete, which contains sand and gravel bonded together by cement and water, RAAC is filled with air bubbles instead of gravel. This makes the panels lighter but, as we now know, less durable.

RAAC was used extensively in the UK construction industry, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. Panels made of the material were commonly used for roofing, in particular for flat roofs. Unfortunately, many of these panels are now starting to deteriorate, creating a risk of structural failure.

How dangerous is bubble concrete in commercial property?

For those commercial properties where bubble concrete was used in their construction, there may be a significant risk of those panels failing. Indeed, the panels have been deemed “life-expired and liable to collapse” by the Office of Government safety.

RAAC was a cheaper alternative to conventional concrete and its use in public sector buildings has been highlighted recently. But the use of cheaper construction materials is unlikely to be limited to the public sector and some private sector commercial buildings may be found to contain RAAC in the future.  RAAC from the 1950s, 60s and 70s is considered to be of most concern, in particular, where panels have not been properly maintained, according to experts from Loughborough University. Bubble concrete that has been used in construction more recently is likely to be less of a risk, as long as it was properly designed and manufactured, used for an appropriate purpose, and correctly installed and maintained.

Who is responsible for dealing with bubble concrete in commercial property?

It depends upon the terms of the lease.  In a multi-let building the landlord will generally be responsible for structural repairs.  In a lease of a whole building the landlord or the tenant may be responsible so the lease should be reviewed. Lease terms do vary so it is important to understand each party’s responsibilities.

If a landlord is aware that their property contains bubble concrete, they do not necessarily need to remove and replace it, unless it can be shown that the concrete is failing and presenting a safety risk. However, it would be sensible to have a structural engineer check the property to assess the condition of any affected panels and advise on their state. Having bubble concrete in your property could also potentially affect your insurance.

If a landlord is unsure whether their property contains bubble concrete, they would normally only need to take action if there are reasonable grounds to believe the material might be present e.g. if there are signs of deterioration to concrete panels. In such situations then, again, having a survey by a qualified structural engineer would be advised.

What do commercial landlords need to do about bubble concrete?

If you are a commercial landlord and you are worried about the risks associated with bubble concrete, steps you can take are:

  • Check any records from the building’s construction to see if there is evidence that bubble concrete was used
  • Have a survey by a licensed surveyor to check for any issues
  • Check the terms of your lease agreements, so you are sure about your responsibilities and liabilities
  • Explain the risks and any action you are taking to your tenants, as well as any costs to them
  • Take any steps recommended by the surveyor e.g. replacing or repairing any deteriorating panels, or carrying out remedial work to mitigate any risks
  • Notify your insurers of the issue and the action you have taken

What can commercial tenants do about bubble concrete in their premises?

If you are a commercial tenant and you are concerned that a property you are leasing contains bubble concrete, then you can:

  • Speak to your landlord about your concerns, particularly where there are signs of any deterioration of concrete panels, and keep a record of these conversations
  • Keep a record of any issues, including pictures of any areas of concern
  • Have your lease agreement reviewed by a solicitor to ensure you understand your rights and responsibilities – there will be several lease provisions which will need to be considered
  • Speak to a solicitor about your options if your landlord is not dealing with the matter to your satisfaction or if you are responsible for the structural repair of the building

How Longmores’ Property team can help with bubble concrete in commercial properties

If you are concerned about bubble concrete in a commercial property that you own, manage or lease, then speaking to an expert in commercial property law is highly recommended. This can give you clarity over your rights and obligations, as well as making it easier to resolve any potential disputes in the most effective way for your business.

At Longmores, our Property Litigation team are very experienced in dealing with the full range of real estate issues faced by clients. By providing proactive guidance, we can help to ensure your interests are protected and limit the risk of disputes. This includes reviewing leases and advising on the terms, so you fully understand your rights and responsibilities.

If a dispute has arisen in relation to bubble concrete or any other real estate matter, we can help you find the best solution for your specific and overall goals. With strong skills in alternative dispute resolution, we can typically find an amicable way through most conflicts. However, if court proceedings are required, be assured that we have the fierce litigation skills you need in your corner.

Speak to us about your requirements

To discuss how we can help with bubble concrete in commercial properties, please contact Rachael Spalton who will be happy to advise.

Please note: the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.