Posts with tag: Grenfell Tower

Government wrong to make landlords pay to replace unsafe cladding

Published On: March 11, 2022 at 9:10 am

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A cross party group of MPs has opposed the Government’s plans to make many buy-to-let landlords pay for the replacement of unsafe cladding.

Ministers have proposed that landlords renting out more than one leasehold property will be excluded from its commitment that no leaseholder should have to pay for the removal of unsafe cladding following the Grenfell tragedy.

Following evidence provided by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee has said in its report on building safety published today that: “Buy-to-let landlords are no more to blame than other leaseholders for historic building safety defects and landing them with potentially unaffordable bills will only slow down or prevent works to make buildings safe.”

In its evidence to the Committee the NRLA argued that it was completely unfair that individual landlords should be the only leaseholders not to be covered by the Government’s plans to finance the removal of dangerous cladding.

The Committee noted that it had heard from landlords “who find themselves outside of the scope of the protections, who invested in properties to support their children, to provide income after being made redundant, to help pay for the costs of caring for relatives, or to provide for their retirement”. All of these, it said, are “now facing bills they cannot afford.”

This is supported by a reference in the report to the story of one landlord who had used compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to invest in flats after the murder of their husband in the 7/7 atrocity. They told the Committee that they now face “vast bills”.

Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the NRLA, comments: “We are delighted that the Committee agrees with us. The Government’s decision to exclude buy-to-let landlords renting more than one property from its scheme is unfair and unacceptable. As the Committee rightly notes landlords are no more to blame than other leaseholders for historic building safety defects.

“Ministers now need to stop dragging their feet on this issue, accept the Committee’s conclusions and end its unjust and inexcusable policy.”

Government cladding response welcomed but speedy action needed

Published On: September 9, 2020 at 8:44 am

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The Government has published its response to the House of Commons, Communities and Local Government Select Committee’s (HCLG) report on cladding: progress of remediation, following the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.

Law firm Collyer Bristow has commented on this response that proposals on External Fire Wall Review (EWS1) reporting and efforts with mortgage lenders will be welcome by flat owners who have been in limbo, unable to sell or even remortgage until an EWS1 has been commissioned. However, speedy implementation is now needed.

Janet Armstrong-Fox, Partner and Head of Private Client Property at Collyer Bristow, comments: “All property owners living in residential blocks above 18 metres have been seriously impacted by the review of external cladding, irrespective of whether that cladding poses a fire risk or not. 

“Mortgage lenders require an External Fire Wall Review report, form EWS1, but that can only be completed by a small number of individuals. Delays are leaving flat owners unable to sell their property or remortgage to avoid existing mortgage lending reverting to more expensive standard variable rate products.  

“HCLG recommends in its report that there should be a relaxation around who can complete those surveys and sign-off the EWS1 form. The government is, however, reluctant to relax the requirements as to who can carry out this work to ensure it is undertaken to the appropriate standard.

“The government has, however, recognised the need for a prioritising the most urgent cases with an ‘appropriate triage’ into the process at the valuation stage. That will be welcomed by homeowners, insurers, and lenders alike. 

“The government is also working with mortgage lenders to ensure that flat owners are not disadvantaged when their current mortgage deal ends. Yet it has said that, ultimately, mortgage transactions remain a commercial decision for lenders. Many are, encouragingly, reviewing policies and guidance for valuers of high-rise properties, and that too will be welcome.” 

Janet also concludes with a word of caution: “Flat owners have been left in limbo for far too long, with many in perfectly safe buildings left out of pocket or stuck in a property that is no longer suitable for them. 

“Whilst it is encouraging that the government has broadly accepted the recommendations of the HCLG report, it must implement them as quickly as is possible. If not, flat owners will remain in further limbo.”

Government confirms new steps to further reform building safety

Published On: April 6, 2020 at 8:23 am

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The government has confirmed that big changes will be made to building safety. New measures include mandatory sprinkle systems and consistent wayfinding signage. This will be in all new high-rise blocks of flats over 11 metres tall.

In his statement, Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: “The government is bringing about the biggest change in building safety for a generation.

“Today (2nd April 2020) we have made a major step towards this by publishing our response to the Building a Safer Future consultation. This new regime will put residents’ safety at its heart and follows the announcement of the unprecedented £1 billion fund for removing unsafe cladding from high-rise buildings in the Budget.

“Today we are also announcing that the housing industry is designing a website so lenders and leaseholders can access the information needed to proceed with sales and re-mortgaging, and the government stands ready to help to ensure this work is completed at pace.

“Building safety is a priority and the government is supporting industry in ensuring homes are safe at this difficult time.”

Mark Hayward, Chief Executive of NAEA Propertymark, comments: “Public safety is paramount, and we’re pleased the Government is introducing changes to ensure residents are kept safe. 

“The introduction of a website will allow lenders and leaseholders to access information in a timely manner, enable transactions to go through quicker, and help those who have been left unable to sell or remortgage their property to do so.

“Ultimately, these changes will help the housing market get back on its feet once we’ve moved through this period of uncertainty.”

Mary-Anne Bowring, managing director of property management specialist Ringley, comments: “Today’s (2nd April 2020) announcement shows the government is slowly but surely moving in the right direction. 

“The commitment to work with mortgage lenders is particularly welcome as while the housing market is in deep freeze now, with mortgage lenders pulling up the drawbridge and the Prime Minister urging people not to move unless absolutely necessary, this was a reality for many leaseholders before the Coronavirus crisis thanks to a lack of proper documentation about their cladding.

“The reality for the government is they need to be prepared to do more. As the Chancellor said they will do ‘whatever it takes’ to tackling the impact of the Coronavirus, they must have the same attitude to tackling fire safety, especially in residential buildings.”

How technology is helping improve fire safety in rented homes

Published On: February 27, 2020 at 9:14 am

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Fire safety is an ever-important issue when it comes to housing, even more so since the incident of Grenfell Tower. Tracie Williams, Managing Director of Evident Software, has highlighted how technology is helping residents hold landlords accountable over fire safety concerns.

What recent cases have occurred regarding fire safety in UK rented homes?

“Whilst Grenfell caused many landlords to leap into action and raised the profile of residents’ concerns, has this just led to lip-service or has the disaster affected real change in the industry?” says Williams.

How technology is giving residents back control

“Whilst it’s clear that there is still a long way to go, the good news is that the balance of power between tenants and landlords is already shifting,” Williams says.

  • Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has this year announced new measures to improve building safety, stating that the current pace is too slow and will not be tolerated.
  • The first Grenfell Tower Inquiry report published in October 2019 backed Dame Judith Hackitt’s call for a ‘golden thread’ of information around a building’s construction. This should be digitally maintained and records made available to residents. Tenants will then be able to see for themselves how equipment, such as fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, sprinklers and fire doors, are being maintained and that safety regulations are being adhered to.

Williams concludes: “Giving tenants the power to hold those in positions of responsibility to account, with technology, is the answer the industry and residents themselves have been searching for all these years.

“It is now the responsibility of the housing industry to innovate and ensure this technology is implemented across all large residential buildings so that data capturing, and tracking, is a seamless process. This will ensure tenants of all properties, not just high-rise tower blocks, that the spotlight is currently on, and they can feel safe and confident that their concerns will no longer go unheard. 

The days of tenants feeling like they don’t have a voice are over, but there is much more to be done to complete the shift in power, and equip residents with the information they need to hold landlords to account.”

What can landlords learn from Grenfell?

Published On: December 9, 2019 at 9:54 am

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The Grenfell Tower fire now happened two and a half years ago. It was the UK’s worst residential blaze since the Second World War and is currently being investigated on a number of fronts.

Strong themes are beginning to emerge, showing that lessons must be learned from this terrible incident. Landlords and building managers have a responsibility to protect their tenants

Sir Martin Moore-Bick, leader of the public inquiry into Grenfell, has outlined the failure of multiple parties, over a period of years, to comply with, or ensure continued compliance with building regulations and related safeguarding legislation. He concludes that this played a key role in the tragedy of Grenfell.

Furthermore, he states that there was a failure to learn from similar incidents that happened before Grenfell, for example, the fire at Lakanal House in 2009. 

The current parliamentary green paper on social housing, calls for landlords to provide safer, better quality social accommodation and to listen to their tenants’ views and concerns.

The Hackitt Report, published in May 2018 describes the building/social housing sector as having a ‘race to the bottom’ mentality. Whether this is due to ignorance, laziness or because the system discourages good practice is unknown but the fact is that current behaviour often puts lives at risk.

What can be done to change this?

Primarily, the Hackitt report calls for change. It focuses mostly on HMOs and high rise buildings, but in combination with the parliamentary green paper it is clear that those creating, or not alleviating risk will be held accountable across the rental sector. Landlords and housing providers must pay attention and act now. 

The Hackitt report recommends a very clear model of risk ownership which will hold everyone involved in building management to account, overseen by a new Joint Competent Authority. In the post-Grenfell era, building regulations enforcement will be tougher than ever.

Rather than being based on complex rules and guidance, Hackitt calls for an outcomes-based model of accountability that will apply to responsible parties throughout the lifetime of a building, and this is a crucial point.

In an outcomes-based system, responsible authorities such as landlords and housing associations have the freedom to innovate and look beyond current systems and traditional approaches. What matters is that buildings are protected from fire and residents protected from its dangers, full stop. The approach is not prescribed. 

In other words common sense must be applied. If something looks dangerous, then it is the landlord or building manager’s responsibility to fix or remove the problem regardless of whether it is specifically mentioned in any previous guidelines. If a tenant raises an issue regarding safety then it is your responsibility to investigate and deal with it. 

Everyone involved in housing provision must act in response to Grenfell. And it must never, ever, be allowed to happen again.

Combustible Cladding Ban should not be Restricted to High-Rise Residential Buildings

Published On: July 23, 2018 at 10:16 am

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Dame Judith Hackitt’s review has proposed a ban of combustible cladding, and the House of Commons housing committee believes that this should not be restricted to just high-rise residential buildings.

All existing buildings and residential homes, hospitals, student accommodation and hotels should also be included, the committee has stated.

The committee released a report last week, outlining several conflicts of interest within the construction industry that need to be dealt with. Specific concerns include the fact that builders can appoint their own inspectors. This opens up the possibility that those appointed may have a commercial interest in turning a blind eye to bad practice.

The report goes on to conclude that sprinklers are a vital addition to all high-rise residential buildings, as they provide an extra safety precaution, which the government should recognise by providing funding for installation in council and housing association-owned buildings.

It has also been proposed that a low-interest scheme should be introduced for private rented sector (PRS) building owners, as a way of encouraging them to make changes without it financially affecting leaseholders.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the committee, said: “We are now more than a year on from the catastrophic events at Grenfell Tower, yet despite an independent review of building regulations (led by Dame Judith Hackitt), we are still no closer to having a system that inspires confidence that residents can be safe and secure in their homes.

“We agree with the independent review that there is a need for a fundamental change of culture in the construction industry, but there are also measures that can and should be introduced now.

“We welcome the intention of the government to ban combustible cladding, but the proposals do not go far enough. A ban on dangerous cladding must be extended beyond new high-rise constructions, to existing residential buildings as well as other high-risk buildings.

“The industry is riven with conflicts of interest at every turn, with manufacturers choosing the most lenient testing bodies for their products. It just cannot be right that builders get to choose who marks their homework and urgent action is needed to make sure this does not continue. Fire Rescue Authorities should not be able to pass judgement on the work of their own commercial trading arms.

“The current complicated web of building regulations is compromising safety and putting people at risk in their own homes. It desperately needs both simplifying and strengthening and the government must act now before more lives are lost.”