A million and a half flat owners are trapped in fire-risk high rises across the country because of a £15billion red tape nightmare.
Buck-passing between builders, freeholders, property developers, architects, contractors and the Government in the three years since Grenfell means they face bills of up to £50,000 EACH for essential repairs before they can sell up.
A Sunday Mirror investigation also uncovers the mental stress and despair among struggling leaseholders who may have to wait up to 15 years for safety documents allowing them to move.
And the fury of some in so-called “affordable” flats is only deepened by living next to identical-looking luxury high rises – built by different developers – which have had their safety work done.
One angry householder told us: “The Government introduced laws to make buildings safer – but they just kicked it into the private sector.”
And it’s ended up at the doors of flat owners.
New rules introduced after the 2017 disaster have led to them being hit by charges for fire safety checks five times higher than they should be.
And despite Government pleas for high-rise building owners to “do the right thing” and pay for the replacement of dangerous cladding, many try to pass on the cost to leaseholders, even offering them loans to pay for repairs.
It all culminates in hell for those stuck in homes that remain a fire risk three years after the horror in West London.
Despairing owner Rhiannon Creasey, 33, a charity worker in one of two blocks with 110 flats in Queensland Road near Arsenal’s North London stadium, said fire safety officers now keep watch on it with heat-seeking cameras after it failed a safety inspection.
She planned to sell her one-bedroom home this year to move into a bigger place with her partner.
But freeholders Newlon Housing Trust is in a dispute with developers Kier because critical wall cavity barriers were not put in place during construction.
No one will get a mortgage for the flat she bought in 2014 for £100,000 as a 30 per cent shared ownership in affordable housing. She fears leaseholders will be saddled with the £4.7million repairs – leaving her with a £45,000 bill.
“We’ll be here until 2023 at the earliest,” said Rhiannon. “It’s incredibly disappointing – not to mention the risk of burning to a crisp in your bed.
“Even the insurance company is stepping back from fixing this. Everybody is passing the buck.”
Rubbing it in is the fact that neighbouring luxury blocks that look the same outside – but are valued at up to £1million each – passed their fire safety test with flying colours.
Meanwhile flat owners in fire-risk homes are also facing “rip-off” fees for external wall safety (EWS1) certificates needed to sell up – affecting an estimated 1.5 million flats nationwide.
Surveyors qualified to perform EWS1 inspections have been charging upwards of £5,000 to check building safety for potential buyers. It should cost £1,000.
Many mortgage providers are now demanding the certificates for blocks of any height – even without cladding. But there are fewer than 200 chartered fire engineers able to issue them.
It means owners could be trapped for 10-15 years until the backlog is cleared, and it’s estimated to have led to 30,000 sales falling through.
In Manchester, Nathan Prescott, 44, is caught up in a flats safety nightmare of a different kind. He bought the leasehold for his flat in Skyline Central 1 in Manchester for £175,000 in December 2015.
Recently made redundant, he faces a bill of £18,500 for his share of work on fire-risk cladding at the 122-flat block where he lives with his partner.
Now he’s been offered a five-year £18,000 loan by his flat’s freeholder to help him pay up. He said: “We tried for months to tell the freeholder the Government said it shouldn’t pass costs to leaseholders.
“But this fell on deaf ears. The freeholder said they could recharge us all the costs under leasehold law.
“We believe the Government should take ultimate responsibility
to ensure leaseholders do not bear any costs. Due to my redundancy I am struggling. The stress has had a terrible impact on my mental health.
“If I do not pay the loan for the cladding works, I could face forfeiture.”
The Government has said that freeholders should meet the costs of repairs – with more than 2,000 high-rise buildings still needing to be stripped of dangerous cladding.
But freeholders blame developers for flaws in construction. And some believe leasehold agreements mean they can recover costs of remediation works from leaseholders.
Last month the Commons Public Accounts Committee said it was “unacceptable” that similar Grenfell cladding remains on hundreds of residential buildings – with an estimated cost of £15billion to remove it.
Clive Betts, chairman of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, said it is “probably the biggest building fiasco in modern times”. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has set a target for works on the remaining high-rise blocks to be completed by the end of 2021.
Yesterday the Newlon Housing Trust said while cladding was fire-proof on the blocks near Arsenal’s stadium, the way it was installed triggered the inspection failure.
A spokesman said: “In our view the issues with fire stopping and cavity barriers are defects in the construction of the building. It is not appropriate for us to comment further at this stage.”
A Kier spokesman responded: “Kier is aware of the alleged issues and is committed to working collaboratively with Newlon and the design teams involved to further investigate. It is therefore premature at this stage to provide any further comments.”
David Hollingworth, of mortgage broker London & Country, said: “Clearly there’s a need for tighter safety assessment since the Grenfell disaster.
“It has posed issues for lenders and surveyors in ensuring property is safe. That can clearly have an impact for a mortgage lender and the owner in how it could affect the ability to sell the property.”
An MHCLG spokesperson said: “Residents’ safety should never be compromised – our new Building Safety Bill will ensure safety is prioritised and monitored during the design and construction of high rise buildings, preventing issues like this in future.
“We are making homes safer, faster – providing £1.6bn to speed up the removal of unsafe cladding, targeted where it is needed most.
“Building owners are responsible for making sure that their buildings and the people who live in them are safe and we expect them to meet remediation costs without passing them on to leaseholders.”
In fear of £50,000 bill
Natasha Latchford, 29, scraped together cash to buy a £135,000 two-bed flat in Southampton, under the Government’s help-to-buy scheme.
But four years on she faces a possible £50,000 bill for fire-risk safety repairs to the block.
The solicitor, who lives with her boyfriend, says housing association Vivid Homes will pass on the cost to her if they cannot claim it from the Government’s Building Safety Fund.
“It’s horrifying to think I could be liable,” says Natasha, who would be struck off if made bankrupt.”
A spokesman for Vivid Homes said: “We are strongly backing calls for the Government to fund these essential works.”
Who should pay?
The Government says freeholders should pay for repair costs or recover them from the developer or contractors.
More than half of applications so far for a £1bn government fund to pay for remediation of combustible cladding have been refused, say official figures.
So unfair to make me pay
PR worker Hayley Tillotson, 29, bought her one-bed flat in Leeds, for £102,000 in 2019 with the Government’s discounted Help To Buy scheme.
Now she faces a possible £30,000 bill towards the £500k costs of replacing cladding on the St George’s Building – owned by a millionaire property mogul on land owned by the Diocese of Leeds.
Hayley said: “I don’t think it’s acceptable for me to pay a penny.
“The freeholder who owns the building should be liable, or the developers.
“All I’ve got is a little box inside the building – it’s really unfair if the bill comes my way. It’s not my fault that the flats were clad in unsafe materials and need replacing.
“I bought a flat. I didn’t buy this drama.”