What to do in an emergency and when to call your managing agent

When meeting potential new clients I am often asked Do you have an out-of-hours service? Or what happens in the event of an emergency? Indeed this is one of the questions included in the suggested ARMA questions for a new managing agent.

In 1995, when I first started in the Property Management Industry, all correspondence was either by telephone or by letter, and the idea that there should be an out of hours service was not even considered. Within 10 years, letters and face to face communication were overtaken by the event of email.

The fifth emergency service?

With this, the role and expectations of a managing agent evolved, and the expectation became that the Property Manager should be available at all times. As someone once said to me, the property manager should be considered the fifth emergency service. However, I am not sure I agree with this and during my career, I can count the number of out of hours calls that constitute an emergency on 2, if not 1 hand.

With this in mind, and on the basis that I hope my blogs are useful as well as entertaining I thought it would be prudent to set out how a managing agent would look at an emergency and how to get the best response if this was to happen to you.

What would I call an emergency and what tips would I give to anyone who needs assistance?

Fire Emergency

The most obvious emergency situation I can think of is FIRE and would agree that this constitutes a real emergency. Your first call should always be the Fire Brigade as they will require someone from the block to call (this is to avoid prank calls). Once you have called them you should refer to the emergency procedure that should have been supplied to you as part of the Health and Safety Review carried out. At this point, once you have made yourself safe, then we would recommend contacting your managing agent, who will then make the appropriate arrangements with the insurers such as alternative accommodation, etc if applicable.

Leaking or Flooding

The next situation that may require a Managing Agent’s assistance is in the event of a leak/flood. The first question to ask yourself, is where the water is coming from? If coming through the ceiling, what is above? Is it from another flat or from a roof? If from the roof, is it raining outside? If not what is on the roof? Are there water tanks above?

In most cases, if the water is leaking from the flat above, then you should knock on the flat above and advise them of the leak. It should be remembered that any installation within the flat including pipes are the responsibility of the owner of the flat and will need to be fixed by them. Therefore, they are likely to have a preferred contractor who they will call out to fix the issue. The damage to your flat will then be dealt with once it has dried out and no doubt this will be during working hours.

If the leak is from the roof, you need to consider the weather as due to the dreaded Health and Safety, it is extremely unlikely that a contractor would be able to attend to the roof in the dark or the wet. As callous as it sounds, the only real option available is to put a container under the area to collect any water until the area can be safely accessed. You would also be best to turn off all electrics to this room and move any valuables out of the catchment area.

If the leak is from a water tank on the roof, then it is likely that these are housed in a tank room, and in this case, I would recommend contacting the managing agent as safe access may be available to the contractors. They will also be best placed to decide who to send out, i.e. a roofer or a plumber. I would, however, recommend that someone is only called out if the water is flooding through as it is often disproportionate to go to the expense of calling out a contractor (who may or may not be able to do anything, depending on whether parts are required) if the leak comprises of a small drip.

It is also worth noting that if you are going to claim for alternative accommodation, this will only be offered in the event that the flat is considered completely uninhabitable. As a rule of thumb, this if offered when there is no working kitchen or bathroom or no electrics throughout the flat. Although water may be pouring through the bedroom, a Loss Adjuster will often consider that the occupants can move into the other bedroom in this event.

Where issues arise because of fire or water, it is always prudent to ring the managing agents as they will be able to offer advice and guidance but for the fastest response, you will still need to contact the emergency services yourself.

What other issues that may arise, out of hours?

Lift Entrapment
Should you get trapped in a lift out of hours, in the first instance you should contact the lift company using the phone in the lift car. This will be programmed to contact the lift company directly with a back-up to the Emergency Services. Most lift companies operate a policy of rescue within one hour of being called out. It is always advisable to ensure that you have a mobile phone with you if using the lift so that in the event that you do get trapped you can let others know so that they can inform the lift company too.

Gas leaks or loss of gas
In the first instance, you would need to contact the National Grid 24 hour Emergency line on 0800 111 999 who will then arrange to come out to the property. Further advice on what to do in a gas leak can be found on their website.

Electrical Power Cuts
In the event that you suffer a power cut, in the first instance you should speak to your neighbours to see if they are suffering too or if this pertains to your flat only. If this only pertains to your flat then check your fuses and/or call out an electrician. If this is a communal issue then you will need to contact National Grid by telephoning 105, or further information can be found here.

If you suffer from low water pressure or a lack of cold water, your first port of call should be to check with your neighbours to see if they are also having problems and it is not only your property is suffering. If the problem is with cold water then you need to contact your local supplier and we would suggest that you contact them here. They have a list of options relating to any issues that may occur.

Where your hot water is supplied by a communal boiler you should check with your neighbours to see if they are experiencing issues to and if they are you should contact the Managing Agent who will notify the boiler contractors.

Should you be a victim of a crime, then you should contact the police at the same time as a locksmith to secure your home. It is likely that the cost of securing your property will be covered by insurance. You should also notify your Managing Agent should you be concerned that there is a risk of break into other flats so that they can assess whether further security measures are required for the property.

In all cases, the Managing Agent should be notified of the above but consideration needs to be given as to how to get the promptest response to your issue. Frequently, this is by dealing with issues directly rather than relying on your Managing Agent as you are best placed to describe the issues and arrange access.

In 22 years, and with the requirement that the Managing Agent be more accessible outside working hours, I have only ever experienced one true emergency situation – a fire at a block of 130 flats. The fire occurred in the early hours of the morning and I was called at around 5am by which time the emergency services were on site.

Although I was happy to attend and know that my presence on site offered comfort to the occupants, the real work started once normal office hours resumed and it would be my suggestion that when asking about an emergency service you consider what assistance this really provides.

Notwithstanding the above, I confirm that should you contact the MIH office number where you will be directed appropriately. Alternatively, MIH has partnered with Messrs Masterfix who will be happy to try and advise on the best way in which to deal with your emergency.