Cladding leaseholders’ fury after MPs vote down law to protect them from costs

Paul Afshar is just one leaseholder suffering from the new fire safety law. Pic: Paul Afshar

Tower Hamlets and Lewisham leaseholders living in high rise buildings with dangerous cladding have expressed their anger and disappointment after a law to force building owners to pay for costs to remove the combustible materials was rejected by parliament. 

End Our Cladding Scandal’ campaigner Paul Afshar from Wick Lane, Tower Hamlets, said the decision to leave hundreds of thousands of leaseholders with no financial protection and full liability for works to make their buildings safe ‘turned his stomach’. Afshar said: “Hard working people who’ve saved for years for their homes will be landed with crushing bills that in some cases are worth more than 50% of the value of their homes.”

For years, leaseholders have been held responsible by freeholders for dangerous faults such as hazardous cladding costs on homes they never built. On 27 April, MPs chose to vote 340 to 225 against an amendment that would ban building owners from passing remediation costs on for the fifth time, leaving thousands of leaseholders facing fire safety bills of almost £100,000. 

This means leaseholders will continue to be liable by law for costs to make their homes safe, potentially leaving leaseholder bills across the UK totalling and even exceeding £12bn. Local campaigners have said that this could lead to financial ruin and bankruptcy for many leaseholders. 

Afshar first spoke out after he discovered that he too had the dangerous cladding on his flat. Afshar said: “Fixing it will definitely be unaffordable…Not only that but we didn’t design the cladding, we didn’t ask for it, we didn’t build clad flats and we bought in good faith – no one, not one single leaseholder, should have to pay a penny for mistakes of dodgy builders. We need developers with deep pockets to pay. They caused it, and they should fix it.”

The fire safety bill aims to improve building safety through a series of fire safety assessments for external walls. The bill will also give power for any enforcement action if faced with safety failures.

The new law comes in the wake of Grenfell Tower disaster which claimed 72 lives after a fire broke out on the fourth floor. Since the tragedy, it has been found that the cladding used on the tower block contributed to the fires rapid spread. 

On Friday afternoon, a tower block in Canary Wharf, Tower Hamlets with the same cladding as Grenfell caught on fire leaving two in hospital. Afshar said: “What keeps most of us awake at night is wondering whether the homes we saved long to buy are actually safe. The news of the devastating fire in a high-rise block with Grenfell-style cladding, close to where I live, cripples me with fear. Supposing that was my block? It took over 100 firefighters to control the blaze. We can’t have another Grenfell, we just can’t.” 

Two were left in Hospital after a fire broke out in Canary Wharf Pic: Fenella Breaks

Lara Smith (not her real name) from Deptford, Lewisham said: “I am a shared owner, I cannot sell my flat and move. I am a disabled key worker in a flammable fourth floor flat…I am scared that if there is a fire I will die.”

It has been estimated by the Labour Party that the cladding crisis will mean 1.3m flats could be left unmortgageable as many lenders have stated that they won’t offer mortgages unless homes with dangerous cladding have it removed. This will leave thousands of people across the country with unsellable properties and high costs that they are unable to afford. 

Smith said: “Our block of 58 flats, just under 18 metres, have been told that if the housing association doesn’t win its case the cost to shared ownership leaseholders will be £3m…We have also been told that we will be paying their legal costs. Everything I have saved to provide for my future will be taken by ruthless developers”.

Afshar said: “There is a crushing fear that one day the letter will arrive; the letter that tells you to pay tens of thousands of pounds within an impossibly short time frame.”

For buildings 18 metres and higher, the government have said they will use £5bn to change any combustible cladding but it has been revealed that true costs could reach as high as £15bn or more. 

However, this money won’t cover alternative safety issues/defects leaving those in smaller blocks paying hefty costs that they are unable to pay. Local residents have revealed that furniture may need to be sold in order to keep up with bills.

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