Who pays for safer blocks?

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Our homes should be safe as houses – but who pays?

 It may be the start of a new year, but the same old arguments are being fought over building safety – and who should foot the bill.

Last week Wandsworth Council’s bid to force leaseholders in high rise blocks to pay for retrofitting sprinklers was rejected by a tribunal. If the ruling had gone Wandsworth’s way, the council could have entered flats regardless of leaseholders’ wishes and allowed the local authority to recoup some of the costs via the service charge. Inside Housing estimates the cost to residents at £3,000 – £4,000 over four years.

 Similarly, London housing association Network Homes has warned their 4,000 leaseholders face having to pay a share of £200M of improvement works to bring their homes up to a safe standard, unless the government brings forward funding to meet the costs. The HA has already spent around £2M in investigations and interim measures to keep residents safe but told The Times yesterday that it can’t take “blanket responsibility” for costs that are legally payable by the leaseholders.

An article published in December by the Institute of Residential Property Management (IRPM) points to the possibility, for residents in new build blocks, of claiming for remedial works via the Building Warranty, which commonly runs for 10 years after completion. However, those living in older blocks don’t have that option to fall back on and may find themselves obliged to stump up the money for improvement works, whether they can afford it or not if the building owner either cannot be identified or made to pay. In fact, even for newer blocks the warranty is often subject to an excess of £850 – £1000 per unit, which means tens of thousands of pounds would fall to the owner under this route anyway.

This situation is untenable. The complexities of leasehold mean that it is often difficult to lay the responsibility for upgrading buildings at the original owner’s door. While the government is keen to demonstrate its commitment to ‘left behind’ communities in deprived areas of the country, it would do well to consider the 5M plus households living in leasehold homes who constitute a community in their own right. They do not deserve to be ignored.