Tower block owners refuse to pay to remove fire-risk cladding

Residents in one of Croydon town centre’s newer blocks of “luxury apartments” are reported to be “terrified” of the risks of a fire, similar to that which happened at Grenfell Tower, as the owners have handed them a £2million bill to remove the deadly flammable panels that encase the building.

Citiscape, on Frith Road: the cladding is similar to that used at Grenfell Tower

The Guardian last night reported that Citiscape, on Frith Road, close to the Centrale shopping centre, is blighted with the same cladding that is widely regarded as having contributed to the high death toll in the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington last summer, when 71 people died. Hundreds more lost their homes and possessions, and many still await re-housing.

Grenfell Tower was a council-managed residential block. Citiscape is a privately run set of 93 apartments, where two-bed flats until recently sold for £350,000.

But faced with a massive bill to remove the flammable cladding, Citiscape’s owners have determined that their leaseholders must pay – presenting them each with bills of more than £30,000.

According to the newspaper, “The freehold is owned by a company owned by the family trust of the multi-millionaire property mogul Vincent Tchenguiz, and its property agent has told residents that work recladding the Citiscape complex in Croydon will begin ‘once full funds are in place’.”

It is now five months since the government ordered the property agent to get the cladding removed as a matter of urgency. At a residents’ meeting in October, they were told that leaseholders will have to pay for the work.

Then, they were told the estimated cost could be around £5,000 per flat. Since, the costs have multiplied six-fold.

Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, last month suggested the landlord was responsible for ensuring residents’ safety.

“The type of cladding on the Citiscape building was tested at the Building Research Establishment in August in the wake of the Grenfell disaster. It failed the test, which meant it did not adequately resist the spread of fire and breached building regulations guidance. The government told it to replace the cladding, but five months later it remains in place,” The Guardian reports.

The freeholder, Proxima GR Properties, working on behalf of one of the richest people in the country, has responded by warning leaseholders that the bill will increase if they delay payment.

Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE: ‘Absolute outrage’

Some of the block’s residents told The Guardian that their bill to remove the fire risk cladding is more than they earn in a year. Fire wardens are patrolling the building at a cost of £4,000 a week, which the company is also planning to pass on to leaseholders.

In a statement issued by residents, they say that they are “terrified by what could happen in the event of a fire”.

Croydon North MP Steve Reed OBE said, “It is an absolute outrage to leave people in a building which they know isn’t safe and is at risk of burning down like Grenfell Tower did.”

Elsewhere in Croydon, the council has undertaken to retro-fit sprinkler systems into all its taller residential towers, at a cost of £10million. Sprinklers were a key recommendation of a coroner’s report into a previous tower block fire in London. There were no sprinklers fitted in Grenfell Tower.

After The Guardian reported the Citiscape story, a spokesman for the ministry of housing, communities and local government said: “We are clear we would like to see private sector landlords follow the lead of the social sector and not pass on the costs.”

Sajid Javid: has refused to provide funding for sprinklers

But as yet, Government minister Javid has refused to provide any funding towards the cost of fitting sprinklers in Croydon Council’s blocks of flats. Nor has the council announced its policy for those private leaseholders living in the blocks, and whether they will be expected to share some of the cost of the safety works.

The Citiscape dispute is one of the first to affect private blocks and it will be heard in front of a property tribunal next month.

“Their homes are becoming worthless and they are living in fear of their lives,” Reed said.

“Grenfell Tower is still there in the centre of London, a smouldering wreck, and these people think they could be next.”

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4 Responses to Tower block owners refuse to pay to remove fire-risk cladding

  1. Lewis White says:

    I feel so sorry for the residents of this block, who will have assumed that the design and materials used to build this very modern building will have been fit for purpose, tested and selected, designed and built by experts, and passed by Croydon’s Building Control section.

    I wonder what their “normal” service charges are , and am wondering what they will be in 30 years time. I suspect that when these buildings get to 30 years old, there will be other issues arising regarding maintenance costs and replacements of lifts and roof coverings. Will these costs be affordable by the future residents?

    • Nick Davies says:

      Depends on how the building management is organised. A common model is where the residents form a management company and employ a managing agent to handle the maintenance, insurance and so on, and they’ll build up a sinking fund to cover longer term issues. That’s how the block I live in works. But if it’s in the hands of the freeholder they may well see it as a revenue stream and as you say expensive maintenance could be charged piecemeal as the need arises.

      In the short term I hope their insurers haven’t refused cover for matters unrelated to the cladding.

  2. jackgriffin1933 says:

    Sadly, these kind of charges are a perennial hazard for any flat leaseholder – whether the ultimate building owner is public or private.

    Indeed, there has been much wailing and gnashing over the years when RSLs hit (often RTB) leaseholders with (their share of) large bills for replacement windows, re-roofing, overcladding etc etc.

    The bitter irony is that leaseholders in Grenfell (if there were any, RTB or otherwise) may well have had to contribute to the cost of the cladding that killed them.

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