Stepney residents in battle over faulty lift

Hazel Ho outside the lift. Pic: Rahat Mustafa

The managers of a five-storey social housing estate have been forced to apologise after a lift serving 50 families stayed out of order since February.

Residents at Mercer Court in Stepney are now set for a costly legal battle with East Thames, the property’s managers, after months of petitions and notices failed to get the lift working.

On several occasions, parents with small children and elderly people have been trapped in the lift, and families have had to leave prams and pushchairs in the communal area on the ground floor.

The lift has not worked for more than a month at a time since late 2008 when the building was completed and occupied, according to the residents. Each time the lift broke down and a complaint was logged, East Thames would take temporary measures to repair it.

A spokesman for East Thames told EastLondonLines: “We would like to sincerely apologise to all residents affected by this issue.”

“There has been a serious problem with the lifts at Mercer Court, whereby the lifts are repaired and fail again soon after. We accept this situation is untenable, and are currently negotiating with the lift manufacturers and the contractor who built Mercer Court to find the root cause of the problem and agree a permanent solution.” No previous apology had been issued.

Hazel Ho, a resident who is leading the protests, says East Homes has not given any date for resolving the problem since the final breakdown.

“We wrote two letters this year, one signed by 80% of the tenants, pointing out that this is a breach of contract, to which they did not respond,” Ho says. “Because of that, we engaged a solicitor who wrote a letter on our behalf asking to see the surveyor’s report on the lift.”

Hazel Ho with the notice. Pic: Rahat Mustafa

Ho says there is no formal campaign group or any political agenda: the residents just want their basic rights of a working lift.

There are 50 apartments in the affected block, which was completed in November 2008, as part of social housing for key workers, people on benefits and any household earning below £60K a year. It is not a council block.

Caroline Thames, a teacher with the London College of Fashion  moved to Mercer Court in April 2009. She is very annoyed. “The lift has never been working properly since I moved in and this February it broke down totally. And carrying heavy shopping up and bringing down bin bags are daily rituals and definitely not easy,” she said.

She was really cross as she explained, “but worse was when my elderly parents came to visit me from the USA. And they had to carry heavy suitcases up the stairs. And climb so many stairs, as I live on the fourth floor – every time they wanted to go out. We have complained to East Homes – the management company but they pay no attention.”

Life is difficult for Rahana Hussain, 26, who has been living in the block for four years and is now seven months pregnant with her second child.  There was a tone of frustration when she said,  “I find it terrible. It was a nightmare in the early stages of my pregnancy when I had to call the ambulance quite frequently. It was such a hassle for them to get all the equipment up the stairs.”

“And now me and my seven-year-old daughter have to carry the day to day shopping. I don’t go out at all unless I have to. It is difficult to cope, “said Hussain.

Mercer Court. Pic: Rahat Mustafa

According to the Housing Agreement for key workers, clause 2.5 states that East Thames is responsible for maintaining the lift in  good working condition. East Thames can ask for costs only when repairs are required as a result of the actions of any tenant or visitor.

After the lift stopped working completely in February 2012, East Thames put up a notice on each floor confirming that this is due to a design flaw but took no further action. Instead, it got into negotiations with the builder, Bellways, and Stannah Lifts, the lift provider.

In April, the residents of the affected block notified East Thames that it is in breach of contract. The residents also sought a copy of the report filed by an independent surveyor and commissioned by the management company.

East Thames replied five days later, on April 25, to confirm that it had no resolution for the issue.

The residents have said they plan to recover the entire costs of their action against East Thames in their claim for compensation, and also ask for refund of the lift maintenance charge.

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