The cladding nightmare needs a leader to fix it and Boris has chosen Michael Gove to be that man… Chants of “Michael Gove, we want justice!” bellowed around Parliament Square the day after Boris Johnson gave Gove the role of Secretary of State for Levelling Up.
Having held numerous government positions (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Secretary of State For Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Secretary of State for Education) the Conversative politician has been deemed fit to solve the biggest building scandal in British history.
Four years have passed since the tragedy of Grenfell Tower. Many feel it’s legacy shines a spotlight on what would have otherwise been an invisible web of negligence, deceit, greed and denial.
Leaseholders are facing life-shattering bills to remove dangerous materials from the walls of what they wrongfully thought would be a safe home. In some cases, the bills are tens of thousands of pounds, sometimes even exceeding the price of the home.
It truly is a nightmare…
Leaseholders feeling the walls closing in around them
Dangerous cladding puts leaseholders between a rock and a hard place. Unable to sell a flat which requires thousands of pounds of improvements and having to utilise one which is deemed unsafe. Worse still, with mortgage payments still expected from the bank, some leaseholders are forced to pay for two homes at once, as cladding makes their residence unliveable.
The law is quite simply not on the victims side
Unfortunately, leasehold law does not protect homeowners. In fact, residents are the only party responsible for the thousands of pounds worth of work to their badly built homes.
The developers responsible for the faulty dangerous building have evaporated. Receding quietly into the background, they file for bankruptcy or collapse subsidiaries specially set up to build the homes. The government increased the time limit on suing developers over faulty homes from six to fifteen years. Unfortunately, many of the corporations have long since dissolved. Alternatively they are able to use subsidiaries and shell companies to evade responsibility.
If the companies that are responsible can’t be held to account, the leaseholder is left with two things: a serious problem and a bill.
There are two actions that commentators believe that Michael Gove should take
Action 1… Give leaseholders a bailout from the treasury to pay for repairs.
The government has promised £5bn, partly funded by a new tax on developers. That is to remove combustible cladding from homes over 18 metres in height. However, most estimate the amount needed is closer to £15bn.
Victims need financial help as quickly as possible. This forces taxpayers to take the responsibility for the negligence of large property companies whilst the perpetrators get off scot-free. Somehow this doesn’t seem entirely fair?
Action 2… Change the definition of a ‘dangerous building’
The second, as outlined by the Guardian newspaper, seems disturbing. Boris Johnson and his ministers have been developing the idea that many people believe they are living in dangerous buildings and actually aren’t. He says there has been an overreaction on the part of his own government.
Johnson says “A lot of people are living with a frankly unnecessary sense of anxiety about the homes they are living in, because those buildings are as safe as any other.” This seems convenient for the government and leaves potential for unsafe conditions to be certified as safe, which would clearly be grossly irresponsible. Yet that has been the ongoing impression many experts have had about the entire scandal.
Though groups speaking on behalf of the victims have said there is some truth to this.
“The general feeling among leaseholders, especially those in blocks below 18 metres, is that this is a bureaucratic problem, not a safety issue,” says Rituparna Saha, a co-founder of the UK Cladding Action Group.
It also doesn’t mean that leaseholders won’t remain in an unworkable predicament. When leaseholders are sent bills for work that needs to be carried out, they report feeling unable to challenge the quotes. There are fears of predatory financial exploitation. Many believe there are cheaper alternatives to the unbelievably high prices that leaseholders are being quoted. Just this month, residents of a five-storey block were quoted around 85k each. Cheaper options may be safe for residents but wouldn’t satisfy insurers and mortgage lenders, who care about preventing building damage too.
Michael Gove needs to hold the right people accountable
John Clay, a board member and past chairman of the Society of Licensed Conveyancers, has written a poignant open letter to Michael Gove. He says with emphasis that the government should step in and cover all costs, and claim the money back from the developers responsible. I doubt many would argue with this plan.
‘The Government must step in and pay for all remedial costs to rectify the failures of past administrations to protect owners and leaseholders of high rise apartments. The Government of the day failed to take action after having been warned when fire tests carried out for them in 2004 predicted a disaster…
The remedial costs from Government intervention, should it step in, could be claimed back from the developers who are responsible for the current mess.
At least 500,000 flats are considered too dangerous to live in and are unsaleable. Yet it is deemed acceptable to leave, those who are often vulnerable people, to carry on living under these conditions.’
Mr Gove will no doubt encounter many challenges in his new role. None are likely to be more difficult or sensitive to resolve than the cladding scandal that was brought to our attention by the Grenfell Tragedy.