Flat owners in unsellable homes slam cladding crisis 'limbo''

Leaseholders outside Dukes Palace Wharf building in Duke Street, where they have fire safety problem

Gillian Damerell (on the right) with other leaseholders in front of Dukes Palace Wharf in Duke Street, Norwich - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Flat owners living in unsellable homes have cautiously welcomed the government's latest promise that they will "never" face costs to fix cladding. 

Housing secretary Michael Gove told the House of Commons on January 10 that no leaseholder living in a building higher than 11m, around four to six storeys high, "will ever face any costs" for fixing dangerous cladding.

Communities Secretary Michael Gove giving his keynote address during the Conservative Party Conferen

Housing secretary Michael Gove - Credit: PA

His pledge comes after the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 and gave firms until March to agree how to help leaseholders trapped in "unsellable homes". 

David Atkins, a resident at New Half Moon Yard on the Read Mills development

David Atkins, a resident at New Half Moon Yard on the Read Mills development - Credit: David Atkins

But people living in city tower blocks said this promise still comes far too late.

David Atkins, 74, a retired civil engineer, who lives in the Read Mills development in King Street, said: "It is a step in the right direction in so much at least the government has admitted that leaseholders are not responsible for this crisis.

"It is naive to expect the third parties to pay though. The government needs to force them. Things are not moving fast enough. There is a long way to go. We are in limbo."

He added that many people were struggling to sell their flats because potential buyers are unable to get mortgages.

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He added that an inspection report had revealed issue with missing fire breaks, cladding and decking - but did not feel uncomfortable regarding the building's safety. 

Developers PJ Livesey were approached for comment. 

But Mr Atkins added he was worried about the potential "crippling costs" of repairs which would prevent him and his wife selling their home in the future.

The Read Mills development where residents have paid £60,000 for a fire survey

The Read Mills development in King Street, Norwich - Credit: Denise Bradley

Gillian Damerell, 43, has owned a flat which she now rents out in Dukes Palace Wharf in Duke Street, and said: "Developers should bear the costs in cases where fire safety defects did not comply with the regulations.

"Government should pay where fire safety defects arise because the regulations have been changed recently."

She added her block was not very high risk after the installation of the new fire alarm system and good escape routes.

But the University of East Anglia ocean physics researcher, who wants to sell the flat, said: "I don't trust the government. They have broken promises before."

She described the property as "a millstone around her neck".

Why did the cladding crisis begin?

A spotlight was cast on the use of flammable materials in the construction of high-rise buildings following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, which killed 72 people.

Many leaseholders have since been left facing potentially ruinous bills after discovering that cladding on their homes could be dangerous.

Some have reportedly been hit with costs of more than £100,000 to replace the unsafe materials or pay for so-called “waking watches”, where someone is employed to patrol a building checking for fires.

In February 2021, the government announced a multibillion-pound package in a bid to ensure no leaseholders in high-rise blocks in England face charges for the removal of cladding.

The measures were intended to protect those who own homes in taller buildings.

Worried about cladding? Know your rights

Following the Grenfell Tower fire people who owned flats increasingly saw the bills piling up for work.

But Which? has issued advice to leaseholders on knowing their rights before they are hit with massive payments. 

Which? said: "Building owners or the responsible entity, such as a management company, have legal responsibility for the repair, condition and safety of their buildings. 

"This legal responsibility applies to the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding systems and other fire safety risks.

"If your building owner is not taking action to remedy a fire safety risk, you can notify your local authority, the Fire and Rescue Service and the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) for advice.

"If your building owner isn't cooperating and is unresponsive, try reaching out to your neighbours - we’ve heard from some leaseholders who found that banding together with other residents saw action being taken faster compared to when they acted alone."