By Harry Scoffin
Earlier this week an “unprecedented coalition” of resident groups, managing agents and freehold owners was forged.
The unlikely alliance between pro-leaseholder bodies, the commercialisers of the sector, and those who claim to sit somewhere in the middle, is calling on the government to save an estimated 500,000 flat lessees from “excessive bills” on cladding sites.
Organised by the Association of Residential Managing Agents and Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, a joint open letter sent to new chancellor Rishi Sunak on Monday argues for a “multibillion-pound, government-backed fund” to remediate dangerously-clad leasehold blocks in the private sector.
It suggests that while the safety and structural integrity of high-rise blocks have shot up the agenda since the Grenfell Tower fire, with residents still living in homes wrapped in dangerous cladding two and a half years on from the tragedy, “building safety policy … dating back decades … has failed in its totality” and was “overseen by governments of all political colours.”
The letter boasting support from key industry players indirectly criticises the leasehold system itself, which LKP has long argued perversely allows remote freeholders – the building owners – to charge leaseholders – the tenants – for the cost of maintaining and fixing their own property:
“Building owners and property managers are stepping in to fix these buildings and ensure the safety of residents.
But, where the costs are not recoverable from the original developer, or through an insurance claim, the burden is falling on those who live in these buildings.
Why should homeowners pay the price for such a systemic failure?”
It hints at the pointlessness of third-party freeholders. Only developers, with reputations to protect, have stepped forward to protect flat lessees from the fallout of the cladding crisis.
Ironically, investors in residential freeholds including Vincent Tchenguiz’s Consensus Business Group and Will Astor’s Long Harbour fund are among the letter’s signatories
“The Government deserves credit for funding Grenfell-style ACM cladding remediation, but the problem is much wider than this and that funding doesn’t go far enough. The list of unsafe materials and hidden safety defects that were never identified when these buildings were signed off, is growing by the day,” it adds.
LKP understands Monday’s cladding call is the first in a series of letters with cross-sector and consumer backing being sent to the government demanding swift action is taken on specific leasehold concerns.
ARMA, which represents the largest property managers in the country, has found that around half a million people in the UK may be living in unsafe buildings that passed building control when they were built.
“Materials now deemed to be unsafe include HPL [high pressure laminate] – which has been found to be at least as flammable as the ACM [aluminium composite material] cladding that was used on Grenfell Tower – but the government’s existing fund is limited to ACM cladding,” said ARMA in a press release.
It is a point that was raised by astonished Tory MPs at the Westminster Hall debate earlier this month:
Martin Boyd, LKP chair of trustees, said: “Nearly 1,000 days after the Grenfell tragedy there is a huge amount of worry among leaseholders that the problems are getting worse, not better. The government must help find solutions rather than just telling everyone these are complex problems.”
The letter to Mr Sunak and the Treasury comes in the same week that metro mayors, MPs and cladding victims gathered outside Parliament for a spirited demonstration calling for an end to the cladding crisis and a “no-strings attached” building safety fund covering all dangerously-clad leasehold developments.
Meanwhile, the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick followed through on his threat to “name and shame” building owners who have failed to produce a plan to remove Grenfell-style panels from their blocks, a move widely criticised for being a futile gesture.
The government has “named and shamed” five building owners who have not fixed dangerous cladding on their properties, describing their behaviour as “egregious”. They include Adriatic Land 3 Limited, a freeholder that is managed by a firm led by David Cameron’s brother-in-law William Astor.