A young couple have been unable to start a family after discovering their first home is worthless due to a number of fire safety issues – including flammable cladding.
Abigail Tubis, 30, and her husband bought their flat in St George’s Building, Leeds, shortly before they got married in February 2017. Last year a survey of the block found it had high pressure laminate cladding (HPL) which no longer meets building regulations.
The report also found the building had a series of other fire safety issues, including no compartmentation firebreaks and a ‘stay put’ central alarm system, which would only sound for emergency services. It found the block had not met the regulations at the time it was built.
Since then, Abigail and other residents in the block’s 92 flats have shelled out tens of thousands of pounds to keep their homes safe until the repair work is done. Building management will apply for the cost of the repairs through the government’s Building Safety Fund, but if they’re delayed or unsuccessful, the families could be made to pay up to £40,000 each.
The situation has left Abigail and her husband feeling trapped and fearing bankruptcy as they’re unable to move until the work is done. They had already planned to sell their flat last summer, but lost the new property after discovering their home is worth £0.
Abigail told Metro.co.uk: ‘Essentially now we’re not starting a family because we can’t. It would be the most insane thing to have kids when we might be going bankrupt in the near future through no fault of our own.
‘That has been a challenge to accept. We’ve always been amazing with money throughout our lives.
‘But it’s also about going to sleep at night, knowing what happened in Grenfell, all these fires that you see around. My building is so unsafe, I can only live here if we pay someone to sit outside and watch it for fires. It is very very difficult to come to terms with.
‘It’s made a lot of people depressed and anxious. We are trapped in this situation and we can’t escape it. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.’
New building regulations were brought in after the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, which was caused by the block’s aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding and killed 72 people. The rules now ban the use of combustible materials in the external walls of buildings over 18 metres high.
Abigail’s lease includes a sweeping up clause, which allows for building management to recover the costs of the block’s upkeep. This makes her financially accountable for the building’s repairs, which could be as much as £40,000 each for the cladding to be replaced.
Until then, residents of the block have to pay for a ‘waking watch’ service, which places the building under 24-hour surveillance, in case there is a fire. This previously cost the entire building £37,000 a month, working out at £400 a month for Abigail and her husband, which they struggled to pay while she was on furlough.
All the residents then paid for a new alarm system to be installed, which allowed their waking watch service to drop from three people to just one. The service now costs Abigail and her husband £100 a month.
She said: ‘Our service charge for the building has gone from £1,200 a year to £2,500. That’s all just to sustain living here. The waking watch was put in within two hours of the initial inspection.
‘It’s crazy. You would never be sold a broken car and be expected to deal with it. You get told about the sweeping up clause with examples like the lift breaking down, or the walls needing repainting. Not rebuilding the building.’
In March, the government announced it would provide £1,600,000,000 to building management companies to support the removal of unsafe non ACM cladding systems – but experts say it won’t be anywhere near the amount needed.
An estimated 2,000 high-risk residential buildings need reconstruction due to unsafe fire issues. The housing, communities and local government committee predicted this will cost up to £15,000,000.000.
To access the government funding, residents also need to rely on building management, which is a source of anxiety as they aren’t the ones who are financially liable.
Statistics from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) show 2,784 buildings had been registered for the Building Safety Fund as of the end of September – of which only 65 were able to proceed with the application for funding.
The data indicates that 2,337 buildings did not provide enough information to continue with the process, while 73 were ineligible or withdrawn.
St George’s Building is formally owned by The Church of England Diocese of Leeds. A spokesperson said responsibility for the block was with the head leaseholder, who did not respond to requests for comment.
An MHCLG spokesperson said: ‘Homes are being made safer – with work complete or under way in more than 75% of high-rise buildings with ACM cladding, rising to above 95% in the social housing sector.
‘It is unacceptable that some lenders are asking for information that they simply do not need – leaving leaseholders and home-buyers in limbo.’
When asked how St George’s Building was signed off despite its numerous fire issues, a spokesperson for Leeds City Council said it was the ‘builder and developer’s responsibility to ensure compliance with the building regulations’.
They went on: ‘Leeds Building Control carried out inspections of St George’s Building whilst it was being constructed and had no reason to believe the building did not comply with the regulations in force at the time. A Completion Certificate was issued in 2006.’
The spokesperson added that the council would continue to lobby government ‘to ensure that leaseholders are supported and not financially burdened by their situation’ but could not offer any financial assistance itself.
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