Leaseholders face paying towards fire safety improvements

Leaseholders face paying towards fire safety improvements

ACCORDING TO one of London’s largest housing association, leaseholders will face having to pay a share of £200m in fire safety improvements unless government funding is provided.

The Times reported on the warnings from Network Homes, which stated that leaseholders in its buildings across the city ‘will face paying a share’ of the estimated £200m towards fire safety improvements unless the government ‘provides funding and clarifies standards’ it introduced post Grenfell. Leaseholders in Network Homes towers affected by new standards would be put ‘on notice’ about funding, after cost estimations were released.

These include that the cost of remedial work would total over £100,000 per home, equivalent to over £200m across 20,000 homes in its portfolio, and there are around 4,000 leaseholders of the company’s homes. These include those who bought homes through the government’s right to buy or shared ownership schemes, or have bought homes privately, with other properties occupied by social housing tenants or ‘rented at a discount to the market rate’.

The company is said to be investigating safety issues at 62 buildings signed off by building control that were ‘seen to be compliant with government regulations’, and it added that it had spent about £2m ‘already’ on both investigations and interim measures in buildings where issues had been found. Costs are not planned to be charged to leaseholders, but it added that housing associations ‘cannot accept blanket responsibility’ for costs that are legally leaseholders’ responsibility.

This is because they have ‘charitable status’, with The Times noting that the Grenfell Tower fire ‘exposed failings in building quality and safety regulations’, with the total national cost of renovations ‘becoming clear only now’ to owners of 10,000 high rise residential buildings across England. Inspections are being completed in response to the 22 advice notes released by the government on building safety since June 2016.

Private block leaseholders have ‘already reported’ getting bills for thousands of pounds to fund remedial work, with some facing bankruptcy or losing their homes. While the government has committed £600m to replace aluminium composite material cladding, ‘building owners are responsible for the removal of other types of dangerous cladding or insulation’.

The company is calling on the government to ‘clarify’ building regulations by consolidating the 22 advice notes into one instruction ‘clearly prioritising the least safe buildings, setting out how long interim measures should last’ and introducing a ‘realistic, targeted time period for remediation of buildings that need it’. It also said that the government should provide funding to protect leaseholders from ‘unaffordable bills’.

Helen Evans, Network Homes’ chief executive and chair of the G15 group of London’s largest housing associations, commented: ‘Unless the government categorically confirms it will fund this work, then we will have to soon put our leaseholders on notice that they could be liable for some of these costs. Across the board as housing associations investigate their buildings, we’re finding almost none have been constructed as they should have been.’

Previously, the G15 estimated (https://www.frmjournal.com/news/news_detail.london-housing-associations-face-6-8bn-fire-safety-costs.html) that the cost of upgrading all of its 1,145 tall buildings would be about £4.3bn, around 20% of the cost of the 60,000 affordable homes it has ‘committed to build’ in London. As a consequence, this would be ‘anticipated to result in the reduction of capacity to build’ about 43,000 affordable homes.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government commented: ‘We’ve acted swiftly to ensure residents are safe in their homes and recently announced the largest reforms to building legislation in nearly 40 years. Our guidance is clear that building safety is the responsibility of building owners and we have given expert advice on a range of safety issues to provide clarity.’