Leaseholders liable for fire safety costs
RESIDENTS AT Nova House in Slough have been found liable to pay for a fire watch at the building, which failed a cladding safety test post Grenfell.
In October 2017, it was reported that the building failed the government’s safety tests on cladding, before further fire service investigations ‘revealed other hazards inside’, Slough Borough Council spending over £40,000 to hire a fire appliance ‘to be on standby outside’. In turn, it was paying around £2,000 per day for firefighters ‘to watch over’ the privately owned block.
That November, it was revealed that the £4m estimated cost to replace the cladding and undertake other work ‘may be footed by insurers instead of leaseholders’, but in January 2018 it was reported that leaseholders were sent bills for £14,843 ‘to cover potential cladding costs’ by Ringley, the managers of the building. In that same month, the council said that the takeover would be for a ‘nominal price’, but the cost of fireproofing the building ‘would come from the council’s capital budget’.
However, Slough Express reported that in December 2018 leaseholders received a letter from Ground Rent Estates 5 (GRE5), which owns the freehold and was bought by SBC, that said that after a first tier tribunal, it had been determined that leaseholders were liable for the cost of the waking watch. The council had spent almost £350,000 on a private fire appliance outside the 68 flat building ‘as a precaution while safety measures including heat sensors in the hallways were installed’.
Since then, GRE5 had been paying for two people to be stationed at the site as part of a waking watch ‘who can take immediate action in the event of a fire before emergency services arrive’. The cost of that was not publicly available due to GRE5 being a private company ‘despite’ the council owning it, and its letters to leaseholders stated that they had been found liable not only for the waking watch costs, but also the £350,000 private fire crew.
The letter stated: ‘We are writing to reassure you that this decision does not in any way change our strategy for the recovery of costs at Nova House. We are pursuing the full recovery of costs, including the waking watch, through legal action against the insurer and third parties involved in the construction of the building in 2015. However, the application to the tribunal was necessary to protect the position of the freeholder in the event it is necessary to ask leaseholders to contribute towards those costs.’
In addition, the news outlet stated that the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on the exterior of Nova House ‘is still yet to be replaced and a question mark remains over whether this cost will fall on the leaseholders, GRE5, or insurers’. A council spokeswoman speaking on behalf of GRE5 said: ‘Our ultimate aim is that it will be paid for by insurance and claims from third parties involved in the 2015 construction. Our aim is not to charge the leaseholders for the work. It’s not their fault. We would rather get the people whose fault it was to pay.’