Residents in a town centre tower block could face financial ruin after a tribunal ruled today that they must meet the costs of replacing the Grenfell-style flammable cladding that encompasses their homes.
The leaseholders in the 95-apartment Citiscape complex on Drummond Road have been ordered to pay the bills to make their building safe, after a tribunal ruled that they, rather than the management company, were obliged to cover the costs of making the property safe.
The local MP, Steve Reed OBE, called on the government to step in.
“The government allowed that cladding to go up,” Reed said. “The government must take responsibility for taking that cladding down.
“The government must stop abandoning leaseholders to their fate. The government must pay for this work to be done.”
Citiscape’s cladding is similar to that which is widely regarded as having contributed to the high death toll in the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington last summer, when 72 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 apartments, where two-bed flats until recently sold for £350,000.
Because of the mounting costs of monitoring the building with 24/7 fire watches, and the legal costs involved, the leaseholders fear that their total bill to replace the cladding could now amount to more than £2million.
“It’s a let-down,” Alex Blanc, who owns a two-bedroom flat in Citiscape, said of today’s tribunal ruling.
“This is something we are not responsible for and now we are having to pay for it.”
The building is owned by the family trust of the multi-millionaire property mogul Vincent Tchenguiz, but the case was brought by FirstPort Property Services property management company, seeking clarification on who should pay.
As far as Reed is concerned, the government should be picking up the bills.
“The government has consistently claimed the flammable cladding on Grenfell did not comply with the rules, but last week we saw a certificate authorising a similar material that was signed by the government’s chief advisor on the fire safety of buildings,” Reed said.
“It is crystal clear the government was responsible for allowing this cladding to go up so the government must accept responsibility for taking it down.” Good luck with that…
The Guardian newspaper is reporting tonight that the chairman of the London residential property tribunal, Angus Andrew, has ruled that the leaseholders should pay because “if the manager is obliged to do work … the tenants are obliged to contribute to the cost although they remain entitled to dispute the reasonableness of the cost”.
But Andrew has suggested residents may have claims against other parties involved, including the government. Andrew listed the cladding manufacturer, “if warranties were given as to its suitability”, and Barratt Homes, which built the blocks in 2001, “if they were negligent as to the selection and installation of the cladding”.
The tribunal chairman also suggested that leaseholders could mount legal challenges against Croydon Council “if there were errors in certification process”. Many tower blocks, including Grenfell, were signed off by building inspectors as being compliant with building regulations.
Andrew also said leaseholders could challenge central government “if the building regulations were not fit for purpose”.
But he added that no claims could reasonably commence until the public inquiry into the causes of the Grenfell fire had reported, which is unlikely to be until 2019.
He warned that tenants could “find themselves mired in litigation for many years, during which time their flats would be effectively unsaleable”.
The on-going uncertainty, over the safety of their homes and the possible bills they face to put things right, certainly haunts the residents of Citiscape.
Soon after the Grenfell Tower fire last summer, when Citiscape was discovered to have been encased in similar cladding, it was estimated that the cost of replacing the combustible panelling was about £500,000. Estimates have since risen to £2.4million.
Leaseholders had insisted that replacing the cladding should not be added to their service charge as it was not a matter of disrepair “because the cladding remains as designed and constructed”, and it did not fall under “periodical expenditure”.
One resident, Richard Low-Foon, told the tribunal he needed “a miracle” to fund the works as his father was ill and could not sell his flat because of the risk the building carried for any future investor.
“He is in hospital because of all this. It got too much for him,” he said.
Citiscape residents were told at the tribunal that no work will begin to remove their building’s cladding until the full amount for the costs – with each resident facing bills of £31,000 – has been paid into the management firm’s bank.
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