Heartbroken families are facing eviction or bankruptcy if they cannot cough up millions to pay for the removal of potentially lethal Grenfell-style cladding on their homes.
Some 1,000 days after the June 2017 tragedy – which saw 72 killed when flammable material caught fire – an estimated 550,000 people in the UK are living in around 1,600 potentially unsafe buildings, according to figures from the Association of Residential Managing Agents and the Government.
They are calling for the Tories to take action, after two-and-a-half years of empty promises on the removal of dangerous cladding.
They are demanding the Government either introduces a grant to fund replacement costs, or brings in a law forcing building owners and developers to pay for the removal of the dodgy material.
The removal of flammable cladding from tower blocks is a key demand of the Mirror’s Grenfell: Never Again campaign.
Stuck in an apartment that he owns and facing huge bills, with his life on hold, 29-year-old Dominic Wroblewski, of Leeds, said: “I’ve cried more in the last three months than I have in my entire life”.
He got engaged to partner Chenfei, also 29, in December but straight after was told by his property management company, upon fire service advice, they were living in a building wrapped in flammable cladding. He says his “investment has turned into a prison”.
Elsewhere in the same city, The Church of England is locked in a row with the head leaseholder of St George’s Building, with each citing the other for having responsibility for the cladding removal.
Abigail Tubis, who lives in that block, was planning on starting a family with her husband, but instead now faces being out on the street or skint.
Her 12-storey block of 92 homes has to pay £400 per flat each month for a “waking watch” – somebody to raise the alarm should a fire take hold.
Her building is covered in high-pressure laminate cladding, which was found in a study last year to be just as flammable as the Aluminium Composite Material cladding on Grenfell Tower.
A letter to residents from their former management company told them it would cost up to £69,000 to consult to find a company to remove the cladding, but Abigail says she recently has been told it could cost as much as £76,000.
Another letter said cladding removal could cost £1million, but Abigail says she has been told it could cost up to £2m.
“The government has said they (building owners and developers) should not put the cost onto leaseholders,” said 29-year-old Mrs Tubis, an account manager.
“But until there is a law in place stating that, there is no way it will happen. They need to make it legislation. People like myself and my neighbours are victims and we are trapped – we cannot sell, move out, or rent out our place.”
Last year the Government released a £200m fund to help with the removal of ACM cladding on private buildings, the same cladding that was used on Grenfell.
It had long been suspected that other materials were as lethal as ACM and last year government tests found most HPL panels should be removed.
HPL cladding was on a student block in Bolton that was engulfed by flames in November, and on Lakanal House, a London tower block where six residents died in a fire in 2009.
Last month the Government named five building owners who had not fixed cladding on their properties.
One of them was Adriatic Land 3 Limited, a freeholder managed by a firm led by David Cameron’s brother-in-law William Astor.
A spokesperson from HomeGround on behalf of Adriatic Land 3 Limited said: “Naming and shaming building owners, who are committed to fixing these buildings as quickly as possible, is completely counterproductive.
“Residents, managing agents and freeholders have all been clear that this Government needs to step in and address what is clearly a systemic, regulatory failure on the part of successive Governments over many years.”
But in many cases, firms who developed the buildings have gone bust. Mrs Tubis said: “I remember watching the Grenfell tragedy unfold, thinking ‘how could this happen?’
We bought a lease thinking it was a safe building. I’m constantly anxious, I’m affected by it every single waking moment.”
Mrs Tubis founded Leeds Cladding Scandal in November after fire services warned by letter that residents in 13 West Yorkshire blocks – including hers – would have to move out unless dangerous cladding is stripped.
The Leeds group follows on from Cladiators in Manchester and the UK Cladding Action Group.
Moves are also underway to bring together affected residents in Liverpool and Newcastle.
In Sheffield, 31-year-old William Martin lives in Metis Building, which also has ACM cladding.
It is eligible for the Government’s ACM fund but almost a year after that fund was announced – nothing has changed, he said. About 25% of the building has ACM cladding and will cost £2.4m to fix. With 143 ACM buildings in the UK still not fixed, Mr Martin says the fund is not big enough.
Rachael Loftus lives in the six-storey Timble Beck building, also in Leeds. Her building is covered in timber cladding – similar to the sort which saw a block go up in flames in Barking, East London, last year.
She said leaseholders’ £18,000 sinking fund was initially used by property management firm Centrick to pay for the waking watch – which costs £3,840 plus VAT each week according to a letter sent by the company.
Once the sinking fund ran out, leaseholders were told they would have to pay the bill on a monthly basis, amounting to around £830 per flat each month, Rachael said.
She said they were also told they would have to pay for an upgraded alarm system costing in the region of £50,000, with an immediate payment of £2,000 each.
That is on top of an £890 emergency payment that has already been paid to the freeholder to fund additional insurance, said the 42-year-old.
When approached by the Mirror, Centrick said it would now fund the up front costs for the waking watch and fire alarm installation, “to help alleviate the financial pressure on the residents while maintaining their safety”.
The firm said the alarm system would replace the waking watch, but West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service said a 24-hour waking watch would still be needed.
First time buyer Jennifer Reid, 38, bought her flat in the Islington Gates, Birmingham, last year – and was told by a property management agency five weeks ago she was living in a building with flammable timber cladding.
She said the 144 flat owners have been told they need to find £8m between them – around £50,000 each – within the next 12-to-18-months to pay to remove it.
Insurance companies have told them if they do not fix the building they stop insuring them, meaning banks could call back their mortgages.
She said their annual insurance has rocketed from £300 to £1,500.
“With the floods, the government underwrote the insurance risk. Why can’t they do the same for us?”
A Ministry of Housing spokesman said: “The Government has taken urgent action on building safety including committing £600m for remediating buildings with unsafe ACM cladding.”
“There is no excuse for building owners not ensuring that residents are safe in their homes.”
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