The debate about who is responsible for paying for fire safety works on blocks of flats in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire is the subject of a new paper released by the House of Commons Library.
Following the devastating Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017 in which more that 71 people lost their lives, the Government established a Building Safety Programme, “ensuring that residents of high-rise residential buildings are safe, and feel safe from the risk of fire, now and in the future.”
By 16 February 2018, 288 residential blocks in England had been identified as having Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding, of the same or similar type to that applied to Grenfell Tower.
These blocks are described as “unlikely to meet current Building Regulation guidance.”
Remediation work is complex, and the associated costs are expected to be significant.
The question of who is responsible for paying for remedial works has been described as “a legal quagmire” and is at the forefront of debates about how quickly the necessary work can be carried out and the financial implications for some residents, particularly those living in privately owned blocks.
Case Study: Cityscape
Cladding on Croydon’s Cityscape development failed BRE testing in August and the Government told owners it must be replaced.
However, months on, it is still in place, and flat owners were horrified to receive bills of £30,000 from the block’s owners to cover the replacement costs.
Housing Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament the responsible person is ‘clearly the freeholder’, saying: “Whatever the legal case might be, the freeholder should take responsibility.”
Despite this the question remains. Is it the building owner’s responsibility? The company that specified the use of the cladding? Or the contractor who installed it?
Clarity is desperately needed.
FirstPort, the managing agent for the building owners Proxima GR Properties, is taking the issue to a property tribunal.
It is arguing the costs should be met by the leaseholders and are ‘reasonable’, however it too wants clarity from the government on any support that is available.
While the situation remains unresolved, fire wardens are patrolling Cityscape 24/7 at a cost of £4,000 a week – something the flat owners will also be asked to pay for.
The RLA says the issue rests on the terms and conditions of the leasehold, but that it is unfair that flat owners should have to foot the bill when they were in no way involved in decisions surrounding the building’s cladding.
In a statement it said: “The freeholder is the responsible person for dealing with fire safety matters.
“However, where there is an appropriate agreement they can pass this cost to their tenants, especially in the long leases associated with flat ownership.
“This is an area the RLA has been concerned about and has asked the Government to consider.
“It seems unjust that flat owners should be asked to pay large sums of money to correct cladding which is not fire safe and we would expect freeholders to consider whether the advice they received, and the work done was appropriate to begin with.
“They should then seek recompense from contractors or advisors who have made mistakes rather than expecting the owners of flats to pay.”
The Government funded Leasehold Advisory Service has addressed the question of who pays for fire safety measures, such as changing cladding on blocks of flats, on its website.
It confirms that it depends on the terms of the lease between the building owner (the freeholder) and the leaseholders.
Even if the lease doesn’t say anything about passing on fire safety costs to leaseholders, the freeholder might still be able to.
Freeholders might use something called a ‘sweeping-up’ clause. This could allow freeholders to get leaseholders to pay for a range of unexpected costs.
These costs could include:
- money spent for the ‘benefit of the building’
- money spent to enable ‘good estate management’
What to do next?
Affected long leaseholders are best advised to seek professional legal advice and assistance.
The Leasehold Advisory Service and the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership (which also acts as the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on leasehold reform) are potential sources of advice.
The APPG will be considering fire safety issues at its next meeting on 26 April 2018.
To read the paper in full click here.
The RLA has reviewed its fire safety advice for residential landlords, with an overview available here. Owners of apartments or purpose built flats may also find the Guidance on fire safety in individual flats useful.
In addition to the new guidance the RLA is now offering online and classroom fire safety training courses which cover:
- The different legislation relating to fire safety.
- The different building/property types and which pieces of the above legislation apply
- How to conduct fire risk assessments and protect both your tenants and your property from fire
- Practical tips on fire safety and with reference to the LACORS fire safety guide.
For more information on our training courses click here.