Lessons from Grenfell – cladding and fire Safety
Since the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, fire safety has been an issue on everyone’s minds, and rightly so. A lot has changed in regards to high-rise buildings, but residents are still feeling some of the repercussions.
It has been found that many apartments and high-rise buildings up and down the UK are clad with the same combustible aluminium composite (ACM) panels as those which spread the fire at Grenfell Tower. During the testing of ACM materials, it was also discovered that many non-ACM materials (such as wood and High-Pressure Laminate) could also pose a notable danger to life when used on buildings 18m high or more.
This information was given to the public in the form of Advice Note 14 (AN14) – now incorporated into the Governments “Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings” document. Although these documents are only advice notes, they have been causing a multitude of issues in regards to the sale and remortgaging of apartments in Birmingham city centre, on top of additional costs leaseholders already face to ensure their properties are safe.
Somewhat understandably, no lender wants to provide finance on homes made of potentially dangerous material. This has lead to some valuers returning a £0 value on apartments.
A £0 valuation does not mean that the valuer thinks the property is worth £0, they are doing so to put a hold on the mortgage application until the material is deemed safe or remediation has been costed.
The situation has left leaseholders feeling ‘trapped’, unable to sell their properties, move home, divorce or remortgage. It isn’t great news on top of the mounting bills they are already footing to enact interim safety measures, such as waking watch (24/7 fire wardens), dramatically increased insurance premiums and legal fees. Not to mention the potential cost of removing the cladding and replacing it with a fire retardant alternative. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that some developers or freeholders are procrastinating about picking up the bill.
THE (POTENTIAL) SOLUTION
One way sellers could potentially continue with their sales and remortgages is to provide an EWS1 form*, which would satisfy both solicitors and mortgage providers.
To obtain an EWS1 form, either a suitably qualified person such as a building surveyor or a Fire Engineer must investigate and sign off that the building meets the criteria of limited combustibility.
While this may sound like a simple solution, it has its own set of problems. The cost of performing one of these surveys is often pretty high, meaning some leaseholders simply cannot afford it. The certificate covers the entire building, not just one home so often it can take a lot of effort (not to mention time and money) to get all of the other apartment owners or freeholders on board (if they can at all!).
This is leaving them with no other choice than to stay put or pay a higher mortgage rate due to being unable to remortgage. Those who can afford the high survey costs encounter issues with the lack of available, suitably qualified people to take out the surveys – this causes massive delays in the sales process and has seen many buyers pulling out of sales entirely.
At FleetMilne, we have personally encountered this issue in Birmingham city centre. Currently, we have sales at a complete stand-still as we are waiting for building managers to provide an EWS1 form. Despite being Birmingham’s top selling agent, we are entirely powerless at this point, despite our best efforts.
If homeowners manage to get past all of these roadblocks and a survey is completed but comes back as a fail, they now face the eye-watering costs of making the building safe. Many leaseholders are pushing for developers or freeholders to take ownership of the problem (and so, pay the price), but, unsurprisingly they are reluctant to foot the bill. The apartment owners need to get together to make sure they take action, lobbying together to decide where the accountability and responsibility for remediation lies.
WHAT CAN BE DONE
At FleetMilne, we’re doing all we can to support our clients through this. The best way we can do that is to help educate and spread awareness of the issue. While we cannot go out and perform these inspections for you, we can give you advice based on what we’ve seen work for our other clients, as well as provide you with the resources to be as up-to-date as possible.
If you are keen to get involved, the Birmingham Leaseholder Action Group (BrumLAG) are an action group who are actively working to solve the cladding issues, and would always appreciate having more people on board. They aim to put pressure on the Government to assure:
The Government will underwrite the insurance for our buildings
The Government’s cladding fund will be extended to cover all fire safety issues
Interim waking watches will be funded by the building owners
In addition, they are currently looking for representatives from effected developments to join a (virtual) round table meeting. If you are a leaseholder of an apartment in Jupiter (1 and 4), Friday Bridge, Centenary Plaza, Cutlass Court, Broadwalk, Churchgate Plaza, Trinity House, Latitude, Westgate, Masshouse, Wickets, Regency Place, Trinity House or Royal Arch, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to participate.
We want to encourage our clients to be knowledgable about this issue so they too can get involved with calling for our Government to step in.
FleetMilne would encourage any leaseholders to ask their management company for the building to be tested for combustible materials as soon as they can before they consider remortgaging or putting their property on the market. This way, hopefully, the tests will have been carried out, or at least be in the works, before it is time for them to make their next steps with the property.
The use of combustible materials is now banned for all new homes of 18m and taller, and most developers are ensuring that regardless of height, their projects are considered fire-safe. However, with any property purchase, we would recommend appointing a conveyancer who can point out any potential issues and give you peace of mind that your new property is safe.
If you would like some further information from legal professionals, Freeths LLP hosted a very extensive and detailed webinar which you can watch for free here on Youtube or you can read through their presentation here.
David Marsden Property Litigation Partner at Freeths has also said that our leaseholders can contact him directly on 07413 012971 for some general, free advice.
As always, if you have any questions, please call us on 0121 366 0456 to discuss your situation – one of our property experts will be able to help.
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