Innocent leaseholders trapped in flammable, unsellable flats due to the cladding and building safety scandal are staging a rally in London on Thursday September 16. Living in fear of fire and paying for safety measures and huge hikes in insurance, while facing astronomical bills to fix buildings they didn’t construct and don’t own, their message is simple: leasehold homeowners should not pay.
Campaigners living in the flammable flats argue that the Government’s £5.1bn building safety fund is insufficient to deal with the scale of the issues uncovered after the Grenfell fire and, along with a long-term levy on developers, they are proposing a Polluter Pays approach, which would see those who built the blighted apartments pay to put them right, though many are no longer in business.
The Government says freeholders should help fund a shortfall in remediation costs but most building owners are simply passing them onto leaseholders, leaving many looking at bills of more than £100,000 each.
Meanwhile, the Government’s bid to use EWS1, external wall system certificates to aid mortgageability on high rise flats is, “a fiasco”, according to Yorkshire Post mortgage expert Andrew Milnes. He says: “It is estimated that there are now 1.3m unmortgageable flats in the UK and at least 60 per cent of all the flats in Leeds city centre are said to be unmortgageable.”
Here, two leasehold flat owners from Leeds tell us their story and Andrew Milnes reveals the chaos and heartache surrounding mortgageability.
Maxine Burton, 34, bought her two-bedroom apartment at Cartier House in Leeds city centre in March 2017, just before the Grenfell fire exposed the building safety scandal. She and her partner had planned to renovate the flat before selling it to fund a move to the country. Now, they are trapped in a building with non-compliant cladding, insufficient firebreaks and timber balconies. The estimated cost to make it safe is at least £8m.
In the meantime, Maxine and her partner have been paying £800 per year for waking watch fire patrols. While new fire alarms are set to alleviate that burden, the main worry is a predicted bill of up to £120,000 for building remediation costs that the couple and others in Cartier House will face if their freeholder’s application to the Government’s Building Safety Fund is unsuccessful or fails to pay for all that is needed..
“If that happens we will have to declare bankruptcy, lose the equity we have in the flat and start from scratch. Even if we get funding and work starts soon, it will take two years, by which time I’ll be 36,” says Maxine, who adds: “It’s not just the big issues that get you down, it’s the little things like needing a new sofa. We just daren’t spend the money on it.”
Pippa Hamshaw, 32, bought a two-bedroom apartment at Leeds Dock in Leeds city centre in January 2019 and found out in July 2020 that it had flammable cladding, insulation and render, plus missing firebreaks and unsafe balconies. “I saved really hard to buy this flat, which was supposed to be a two to three year home before moving to a house with a garden,” says Pippa, who is also waiting to hear whether an application for remediation via the government’s Building Safety Fund has been successful.
Her block is self-managed very well by a committee of leasehold flat owners which was quick to submit an application that has since been mired in red tape. “The application was submitted in September 2020 and we still don’t know whether we will get all, partial or no funding. If we get none my bill for the work needed will be £140,000 plus,” says Pippa, who is also burdened with higher insurance costs.
“Before the cladding scandal the block’s total insurance bill was £57,000. It’s now £258,000 and at the next renewal, it will be £370,000, which means my insurance bill will be £3,000 a year. The Government needs to act on insurers cashing in on our misery.”
While her apartment block now has a new fire sensor system via the Waking Watch Relief fund, leaseholders still have to pay for 24/7 evacuation manager. “All my life plans are on hold and it’s so stressful mentally because you do feel trapped. There’s anger and tears and now frustration,” says Pippa, an ecologist, who believes that remediation costs should be funded by a levy on developers.
Andrew Milnes, business principal of the Mortgage Advice Bureau, Bingley, is also angry and frustrated at the Government’s insistence that EWS1 forms would help those in apartment blocks unaffected by the scandal to sell their homes. He says a good example is Candle House, Leeds. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors guidelines say that the building does not need an EWS1 certificate but lenders want one to support any mortgage application.
“We are stuck with nowhere to go on this and we are aware of at least six aborted sales on that one development,” says Andrew. “EWS1 certificates have been a complete shambles with lenders choosing to apply their own guidelines.”
Andrew says that while a safety certificate is not needed on buildings under 18 metres, surveyors are still being cautious about their mortgageability. “From our point of view EWS1 has not led to a relaxation from mortgage lenders. Our work on apartment purchases in city centres has almost dried up.”
He adds that flats caught in the building safety scandal are unmortgageable and therefore can only be sold at considerable discount to cash buyers, of which there are few, if any. Owners are also mortgage prisoners, “For those whose mortgage deals are coming to an end, we are left with doing a product transfer with the current lender. It is impossible for them to move lenders.”
The rally is on September 16, visit endourcladdingscandal.org. Twitter @EOCS_Official
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