A flat owner is anxiously awaiting a cladding removal bill of up to £30,000 after a safety report concluded her home had a huge fire risk.
Lisa Petty, 42, lives with her sister in their two-bedroom flat in Romford, east London. They initially bought the property with hopes of later reselling so they could both put deposits down on separate homes. But nearly seven years later, they remain “trapped” in the flammable building.
An assessment concluded that their flat had “absolutely no fire retardant qualities whatsoever” - and found that its dangerous cladding is the same as that used on Grenfell Tower. This means the siblings are unable to sell the property and “move on with their lives” because they do not have an EWS1 certificate, which proves to potential buyers that the flat has passed fire safety requirements.
Their “only option” then is to remain in the flat, but if they want to live in a safe home, they need to have the cladding taken off. However, as their block is less than 11 metres in height, it does not qualify for government funding - regardless of whether the home is a fire risk or not. So they will have to foot the removal bill themselves, which could be up to £30,000.
Lisa told NationalWorld: “It just feels so unfair. We all saw what happened to Grenfell Tower - and our building has the same material. The government has even admitted how unsafe it is, by banning the use of the material on any new buildings, no matter what the height is.
“So they’ve recognised that the material is so unsafe it should be illegal, but for those of us already trapped in these buildings, it’s down to us to pay to make our homes safe?”
To make matters worse, the price of cladding removal is not cheap. Using estimates from other buildings, Lisa is preparing for anything between £10,000 and £30,000 - a figure which campaign group End Our Cladding Scandal said looks accurate. This is unaffordable at the best of times, let alone during a cost of living crisis.
Yet another cause of stress for Lisa is the fact that the building’s managing agent, Wildheart, is allegedly “demanding” residents pay the money upfront before any construction work can take place.
Lisa commented: “This obviously won’t be possible, so we’re saying let’s at least agree to a payment plan - then, the cladding can be removed before all the money is in and we’re safe. But there’s no talking to them. They’re giving us no leeway, no timeline. We don’t know how long it will take for us to be free.”
Lisa added that Wildheart has suggested residents borrow more money from their mortgage providers in order to afford the costs. But their mortgage providers view the properties as being worthless at the moment, as they do not pass fire safety requirements. Not to mention, Lisa’s mortgage has increased by £400 since July - so even if this were possible, it would be the last thing she’d want to do.
“It’s out of our hands, which is the most frustrating part of the situation,” Lisa said. “My sister and I both want to move on - we want to do other things with our lives. But we’re stuck here until the building manager arranges the removal, which could be ages if none of us can get the money together.”
Of course, the money isn’t the only source of anxiety for Lisa, her sister, and their fellow residents. “I can’t even begin to explain the fear of living in a building you know is a fire risk, especially after Grenfell,” she said. “It makes you more stressed about everyday life. In the summer, people were having barbecues on their balconies and I freaked out. It’s just constant anxiety.”
Simon Halls, managing director of Wildheart, told NationalWorld: “Our professional advice confirms that this building does contain unsafe cladding which must be removed in the interests of safety. Our first course of action in these situations is to explore exhaustively whether funding can be sourced to protect leaseholders from the cost and we are grateful for the interest shown by the local MP in this endeavour.
“Unfortunately, the building does not qualify for government assistance such as the Building Safety Fund and it is not possible to pursue the original developer. There is also no warranty insurance or other recourse available. In these circumstances, the costs will inevitably fall under the building’s service charge.” He added that the company has “great sympathy” with leaseholders who do not benefit from the government’s building safety cost protections.
A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up and Housing told NationalWorld: “We are clear that building owners should ensure that residential buildings, of any height, are safe, as it is their long-standing legal responsibility to do so.
“In rare cases where low-rise buildings do require remediation works, we would expect building owners to explore alternative routes to funding these works, such as through warranties or claims under the Defective Premises Act.” The spokesperson added that buildings below 11 metres are “highly unlikely to need costly remediation work.”
But housing campaigners argue that even low-rise buildings pose a huge danger to residents. End Our Cladding Scandal has said there are many cases which evidence this - such as Richmond House in Worcester Park, which was destroyed by rapid fire spread. Jennifer Frame, a former resident of Richmond House, commented: “When you have material that flammable, it’s unsafe regardless of height.”
Meanwhile, Suzy Spilling, a representative from Unqualified Leaseholders Against Discrimination, told NationalWorld: “Lisa’s story lays bare the failure of the government to devise a comprehensive solution that truly ends this nightmare for all innocent leaseholders caught up in the building safety crisis. It is now a year since Michael Gove acknowledged that leaseholders were blameless and it was morally wrong that they should be asked to pay the price.
“However, those trapped in buildings below the government’s latest, arbitrary height limit of 11 metres have been left to fend for themselves. The government has promised that it will look at such buildings on a case-by-case basis but, without further action and a truly risk-based solution for buildings of all heights, many ordinary people will still be on the hook for life-changing costs that they played no part in causing.”
Lisa added: “I understand that these things can’t be solved overnight because the building industry has been unregulated forever. But the attitude towards fire safety is still lacking. Every decision made nowadays, Grenfell should be at the forefront of people’s minds. But it just doesn’t feel like that is the case at all.”
Condemned: Britain’s Housing Crisis
The NationalWorld team is investigating the housing crisis blighting Britain, and you can read more of our stories here. The current plight is years in the making, from renters stuck in mouldy homes to families unable to afford cladding repairs to make their flats safe. You can read more of our stories on the housing crisis here and if you have a story to tell email [email protected].