Private high rise tenants face cladding removal bill
RESIDENTS IN the Citiscape complex in Croydon have been told they will have to pay £31,300 per flat to fund cladding removal and replacement.
The Guardian reported on the building in London, owned by Proxima GR Properties, which has stated it is ‘not its responsibility’ to pay for the removal and replacement of cladding that failed the government’s fire safety tests undertaken after the Grenfell Tower fire. The £2m bill works out at £31,300 per flat, and the company has ‘denied responsibility’ in paying towards the work, stating that the recladding will only take place ‘once full funds are in place’.Last October, residents had received letters saying that they would have to pay £5,000 to £6,000 per flat to replace the cladding.
Five months ago the government told the company to remove the cladding, while last month Sajid Javid, the housing, communities and local government secretary, said that the landlord ‘was responsible for ensuring resident’s safety’. Proxima GR Properties has ‘insisted that it is not obliged to cover the costs’, and warned the 93 apartments’ leaseholders that the bill ‘will increase if they delay payment’, with the £31,300 set to be ‘levied as early as March’.
Residents responded by noting that the amount ‘was more than they earned in a year and that they feared for their safety’, with a group of residents releasing a statement in which they said they had been ‘left terrified by what could happen in the event of a fire’. The site has fire wardens patrolling ‘constantly’ at a cost of around £4,000 per week, another cost that the company is ‘planning to pass on to leaseholders’.
The dispute is ‘one of the first to affect private blocks’, with many councils and social landlords nationwide having ‘largely agreed’ to cover the costs of emergency cladding replacements. A property tribunal will be held next month, and local MP Steve Reed called on the government to intervene ‘urgently’.
He added: ‘It is an absolute outrage to leave people in a building which they know isn’t safe and is at risk of burning down like Grenfell Tower did. Their homes are becoming worthless and they are living in fear of their lives. Grenfell Tower is still there in the centre of London, a smouldering wreck, and these people think they could be next.’
FirstPort, Proxima’s agent, told leaseholders that ‘we know that this work and the costs are unwelcome. However, as your property manager, our first priority has to be your safety’, warning that the longer the charges are resisted and work delayed, ‘the more it will cost you in other charges such as fire wardens or scaffold costs’. It has taken leaseholders to a tribunal on 6 February, and will argue the leasehold shows ‘the costs are payable by the leaseholders and are reasonable’.
A FirstPort spokesperson commented: ‘We recognise that the potential costs are significant and are committed to minimising them, while putting residents’ safety first. The government has pledged to offer support to owners and residents of high-rise buildings. However, given the pressing need to undertake these essential safety works and the potential costs to leaseholders, we and others in the property industry welcome any clarity the government can provide on what support will be made available.’
Proxima’s demands come despite Mr Javid’s intervention, having been alerted to the situation by Mr Reed. Mr Javid commented: ‘All of the local authorities and housing associations with whom we are in discussion have indicated that they are choosing not to pass on the costs of recladding to individual flat owners. In the private sector, as in the social sector, it is for the responsible person to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of residents.’
A spokesman for the ministry of housing, communities and local government also told The Guardian: ‘We are clear we would like to see private sector landlords follow the lead of the social sector and not pass on the costs. We are giving an extra £465,000 to LEASE, who provide free legal advice to leaseholders, so they can provide a dedicated advice and dispute resolution service for people in buildings that require additional fire safety measures.’