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Tower Blocks may be Vulnerable to Fire Risk
Author: Carl Shave - Director
Updated on October 11th, 2019

Commercial Mortgages

Two years ago, the tragedy at Grenfell Tower led to flammable cladding and insulation being banned from use on tower blocks exceeding 59ft in height. At the time, the Government committed funding to remove similar  flammable materials from social housing blocks. 

Under pressure, a further £200m was allocated for 170 private developments with unsafe Aluminium Composite Material (ACM), but this sum is not helping to fund the removal of other combustibles, which may also pose a risk. With developers and freeholders insisting that they were compliant with building regulations at the time of construction, or refurbishment, the reality is that around 70,000 leasehold flat owners, across the country, are – by default  – paying for the removal, with costs totalling over £1 billion. In some cases, service charges are even increasing to cover the cost of the residents’ safety.

Fire retardant timber cladding is also coming under scrutiny following another recent fire, destroying 20 flats, and damaging a further ten. Urgent investigations into the cause could potentially add a further 12,600 flats in 220 developments built in the last six years, to the total requiring remedial action.

Some developers are reviewing safety measures, installing new fire alarms and employing a 24-hour walking watch, but retro-fitting sprinklers are rarely on the agenda despite the fact that they can be critical in preventing fires from spreading. 

What can residents do?

People who have bought their homes in good faith, some taking advantage of the Government’s Help to Buy scheme to get onto the property ladder, are now fearful for their future security and financial wellbeing Many more residents are now taking action to challenge developers and freeholders, as well as the National House Building Council, which provides 10-year warranties on new build properties.

First, leaseholders should form a formal group and check the terms of their leases in relation to maintenance. Then they should make contact with the owner of the freehold, managing agent or developer to find out exactly what cladding was used. This information should be available from your council, so it’s best to approach your local councillor. Groups should also demand details of the current insurance held by those who are responsible for the building, and each leaseholder should check that their own household insurance continues to be valid. To find out more about establishing a group, contact [email protected] or Manchester Cladiators (@McrCladiators), which has City Council support. 

The next step is to invite local Members of Parliament to meet with your leaseholder group, to demand an urgent inquiry and Government action; the ideal solution would require responsible parties (e.g. some cladding manufacturers, developers and freeholders) to contribute to an independently managed fund, taking financial pressure off leaseholders. A media campaign can also help to accelerate a successful outcome.

Buying and Selling your Property

Until the facts relating to construction and materials used and full fire safety measures, are clarified, some leaseholders may find it difficult to sell – or even to let – their properties. Surveyors and Mortgage companies can be reluctant to authorise funding without relevant guarantees.

This also offers a dilemma for potential purchasers, who need to be aware of any concerns relating to high rise blocks, both new build and second hand, with flats for sale. Sales particulars and agents must provide accurate, and detailed, information. Nevertheless, before making any commitment, purchasers should seek face to face advice from an independent mortgage advisor.

The Mortgage Centres have essential local knowledge to guide you through the home buying process, introducing you to the best deals to suit individual circumstances.

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