Residents and politicians respond to cladding charges at Citiscape

By - Monday 19th February, 2018

The property management company says there are no other funding options to remove unsafe cladding

The cladding on a residential building in Croydon may not be replaced until the property manager can collect enough money from leaseholder service charges.

After Grenfell Tower caught fire, safety tests were carried out on other blocks to determine if other buildings had the same cladding. The results showed that Citiscape, a residential building in Croydon standing tall at 95 flats, did. Residents at the building, which is located at Drummond Road, CR0 1TW, were then faced with a potential £2 million bill to replace the cladding. The cladding consists of aluminium sheets with a polyethylene core and is flammable, but until a decision is made, it will remain on the building.

FirstPort says that the longer the cladding is in place, the longer it is a risk

At a first-tier property tribunal this month Paul Atkinson, the Regional Director for FirstPort Property Services Ltd who manages the development, said that FirstPort is seeking government clarity on possible support for leaseholders, but he further stated that funding is required to start the work. “It will be a difficult decision”, Atkinson said, saying that there are no other funding options. Atkinson said that if the funding is in place, the work will take eight to twelve months from start to completion. At least £500,000 is required to strip the cladding, though the total cost of replacement is estimated to be £2 million. The costs of paying for the fire watch will continue until the cladding is removed. Thomas Smith, FirstPort’s Health and Safety Advisor, said at the beginning of the hearing that the fire watch is necessary.

The resident perspective

Steve Reed (Member of Parliament for Croydon North) and other participants gathered 47 signatures from Citiscape residents on 29th January for a petition asking the government to remove the cladding from the building. The petition was signed by every resident who opened the door.

In November of 2016, Anuj Vats moved into the privately-owned building. In October the following year, he and other residents were asked to attend a consultation meeting with legal representatives from FirstPort. That’s when they were told that they could pay for the cladding work. Vats said that residents were told that the hearing would provide more legal clarity, but FirstPort said that its interpretation was that leaseholders could pay.

The first letter that Vats received said that he owed £3,000

Vats said that when residents first received the letter as per their share of service charges, prices differed depending on each flat. The amount that he owes is already showing on his service charges. “They said that because the matter is not clear yet, they haven’t asked for it, but it’s showing on my service charges. They haven’t asked to pay it as of now, but in my account it’s showing that yes, I still have to pay for it”, said Vats. The initial letter said that estimated costs were around £500,000, but in January Vats found out that the new estimate was around £2 million.

At the time of the deadline last year, FirstPort only had £500,000 estimate to put to residents. Full work to replace the cladding post-removal cannot begin until they formally levy the remaining £1.5 million costs.

Vats said, “Obviously we have to pay a larger amount, so £3,000 is already there, and on top of that I have to pay whatever additions they will ask us on the basis of the revised cost of £2 million”.

The legal perspective

Reed has sided with the residents, saying that he’s concerned for their safety.

“In Citiscape, the developers, the managing agents, the owners, the leaseholders, and the insurers all deny liability”, Reed said. “Because the law isn’t clear on who is responsible, legal wrangles are going on. The reason that cladding is up there in the first place is because building regulations sanctioned by the government said that that kind of cladding was safe. We now know that it isn’t. Now given that cladding was put on because of government regulations that were in error, it should in my view be the government that is responsible for removing the cladding.”

According to Reed, the government has told him “three times that they don’t intend to help”, saying that he spoke to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid. I reached out to Mr Javid for comment. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) Press Officer, Loughlan Campbell, replied to the request in an email with a quotation from an unnamed MHCLG spokesman saying:

“Keeping people safe in their homes is paramount. We are clear that we want to see private sector landlords follow the lead of the social sector and not pass on the costs of essential cladding replacement to leaseholders. We are keeping the situation under review.”

“It’s a matter of lease interpretation”

At the hearing, Judge Angus Andrew said that the tribunal’s task was limited by the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1985. Section 20 of the act says that “relevant contribution”, in relation to a tenant and any works or agreement, is the amount which he may be required under the terms of his lease to contribute (by the payment of service charges) to relevant costs incurred on carrying out the works or under the agreement. This section applies to qualifying works if relevant costs incurred on carrying out the works exceed an appropriate amount. It also says that an appropriate amount is an amount set by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

“It’s a matter of lease interpretation”, Andrew said. The tribunal has adjourned to determine the payability of proposed service charges and will reconvene at a later time.

Holly Bernstein

Holly Bernstein

Holly Bernstein is a political reporter born and raised in Arizona. Back home she is a broadcast political reporter and presenter on Arizona PBS. She is in London chasing her dreams of covering politics around the world and believes in covering what matters anytime, anywhere.

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