Dame Judith Hackitt has told The Guardian that leaseholders caught up in the building safety scandal risk being “fleeced” by landlords and builders, meaning that “we are are making lives worse than need be”.
The chair of the independent review of building regulations and fire safety, and a former chair of the Health and Safety Executive, tells the newspaper that she wants to help, but then says leaseholders “should get a second opinion” on the works.
This is an almost impossible task in leasehold. Leaseholders simply cannot go about commissioning safety reports on a building they do not own.
The exclusive interview, with reporter Robert Booth, nonetheless demonstrates Hackitt’s uneasiness about having created a building safety regime that is set to ruin the lives of thousands of people, who now face wipe-out bills – in excess of £200,000 in some cases.
“Morally they [the leaseholders] shouldn’t have to pay, but what shocks me is the size of some of the bills and whether the problem is being added to by them being exploited,” said Hackitt. “They seem to have no right to challenge what is being prescribed.”
Leaseholders risk being “fleeced” by profiteering landlords and builders in the post-Grenfell fire safety crisis, a senior government adviser has warned in comments likely to increase pressure on ministers to finally resolve the problem. More than four years after the disaster that claimed 72 lives, tens of thousands of leaseholders are being landed with crippling remediation bills exceeding £200,000 per household in the worst cases.
The newspaper reports that she said she wanted to help leaseholders in “not getting fleeced by their landlords”. “The first thing you should do is not just get one survey done, get a second opinion.”
But leaseholders have absolutely no right to commission this sort of survey. At best they could employ someone to make a tertiary examination of the survey reports produced for the landlord … IF the landlord chooses to provide that survey to the leaseholders in the first place (which at the moment they have no obligation to do so).
Hackitt was also scathing about the building sector still cutting corners, in spite of the shocking revelations of the Grenfell inquiry over rigged cladding tests and other regulatory failings.
“I am in contact with people in the fire service and building control who are telling me they are still having to pull people up for poor practice,” she told the Guardian. “There is a general lack of care for quality.”
The Guardian says: “Her comments come as the government pushes ahead with building dozens of hospital facilities and aims to build 300,000 homes annually to solve the affordability crisis. They also reflect fears among some leaseholders that remediation works may result in fresh faults. The new building safety regulator does not look set to be fully established until mid-2023.”
“We should have gone faster,” Hackitt said. “There are still parts of the industry who are saying we can’t change what we do … they are still using excuses … It is disconcerting for us and it is worrying.”
Hackitt’s also reinforced the argument advanced by LKP – and recently taken up by Community Secretary Robert Jenrick – that:
“There has been a disproportionate reaction to the level of risk in medium and lower-rise buildings.”
“We need to get to the bottom of this as quickly as we possibly can, before they pay those bills,” she said. “We need to get the message out there that the [leaseholders] should challenge some of these bills and ask is there any other way of making this building safer.”
A spokesperson for the MHCLG said more risk-proportionate guidelines for fire risk assessors were in development.
“Building owners should make buildings safe without passing costs on to leaseholders – and our new measures will introduce a legal requirement for building owners to prove they have tried all routes to cover the cost of essential safety works,” the MHCLG is quoted.
LKP is not aware of any freeholder / landlord that has paid to remediate a building, apart from Legal and General at Reflexion / Blenheim Centre in Hounslow, as LKP reported in November 2017: