First-time buyer fears huge bill for missing firebreaks in Sheffield apartment block

First-time buyer caught in building safety scandal now trapped and worried sick

Surveyors are checking apartments for flammable cladding and building safety issues such as missing firebreaks

When Laura Thompson got the keys to a one-bedroom apartment at AG1 in Sheffield city centre two years ago, she was delighted. She had saved hard and her parents had also helped her with the deposit for her first home, which she bought for £113,000, assuming it would be a good investment.

“I couldn’t afford to buy a house and I couldn’t afford to rent in the city centre so buying seemed like the sensible option, as I could afford the mortgage repayments and I work in the city,” says Laura, 27, who bitterly regrets what was a wholly rational decision.

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AG1, which has 69 apartments, is now blighted after being caught in the building safety scandal. This means that the flats are effectively unsaleable to those who need a mortgage so their value has plummeted. Issues were discovered during a survey, which showed that internal firebreaks were missing and timber balconies were also a fire risk.

“We found out in early December last year that there was a problem and Mainstay, the company that manages the building, told us that it had applied for help from the Government’s Building Safety Fund and a decision would be made by February this year,” says Laura. “Since then we have had no communication from Mainstay. It is an awful situation and I am worried sick about being made to pay the bill.

“We have been told that the cost of making the building safe will be millions. Even if it was £1m, it would be a £15,000 bill each for each flat plus the cost of replacement balconies because the Government fund does not cover those.”

Property management company Mainstay, which manages AG1, says: “We completely understand how difficult the uncertainty of this situation is for residents and homeowners. We are continuing to do all we can to support them. We submitted an application to the Government’s Building Safety Fund in June 2020, which was declined in December 2020. We submitted an appeal in January 2021 and are awaiting the outcome. As soon as we receive any information, we will update residents.”

Laura knows that the chances of success are slim, judging by the experience of leasehold flat owners in other blighted buildings, who have been sent bills of up to £200,000 each for work to make the apartment blocks safe, even though they did not construct them and, as leaseholders, do not own them.

“I would like to sell the flat to move in with my partner but I can’t so life is on hold and I am worried sick about getting a huge bill. There is no way I can pay it,” she says.

The Yorkshire Post asked Tolent, the company that built AG1 in 2006, whether it would help with costs, even though it now has no liability. It said: “We have not been approached by the building owners regarding this development. Until such a time, we are unable to comment further.”

AG1’s freeholder, Lane City, which owns the building, could not be contacted but Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield has taken up Laura’s case and is pressing for a decision on the funding application.

He says: “The traumatic situation faced by Laura is repeated for tens of thousands of people. It’s ruining lives. Boris Johnson said, ‘no leaseholder should have to pay for the unaffordable costs of fixing safety defects they didn’t cause’ and yet the fund excludes many blocks through technicalities.”