Anxiety mounts for St Albans couple fearing Grenfell-style cladding

Chris and Lisa Rogers have raised concerns over the cladding on their building, Opus House. Picture:

Chris and Lisa Rogers have raised concerns over the cladding on their building, Opus House. Picture: Supplied - Credit: Archant

A St Albans couple fear the block of flats where they live could be covered in flammable cladding, similar to that of Grenfell Tower.

Chris and Lisa Rogers have been using their time in lockdown to research the situation of the cladding on Opus House in Charrington Place.

Following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, new building restrictions were brought in to see flammable cladding replaced, which also applies to wooden balconies, fire breaks and insultation.

Chris told the Herts Ad: “As you can imagine it’s not ideal, especially as we’re in lockdown. We’ve got to stay in the flat having been told this is potentially an unsafe building.

“It adds to the problem. We haven’t had the survey yet.”

Lisa said: “We don’t know exactly what materials were used on the building and won’t know until a survey is done – but there aren’t enough professionals to do the surveys.”

In the March Budget, it was announced that the government would provide £1 billion to support the remediation of unsafe non-aluminium composite material cladding for buildings 18 metres and over in both the private and social housing sectors.

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Chris and Lisa believe the £1 billion is “just a drop in the ocean considering the scale of the problem”, and – as it is on a first come first serve basis – their building will miss out, as until the survey is complete, they don’t know what cladding they are dealing with.

“Although we are not actively trying to sell, it seems mortgage lenders are now asking for a certificate to verify that buildings are meeting these new standards. As many are failing, owners are getting valuations from mortgage lenders of £0, so they won’t lend.

“We can’t remortgage or sell our flat. There’s no time scale for when any of this work can be done, that’s the trouble. We’ve been told to expect years.

“Part of the issue is lots of buildings still don’t know it’s an issue – we didn’t know until we heard from our neighbours who said they couldn’t put their flat on the market and it was being valued at £0 because we they couldn’t provide the certificate. That’s when we started looking into it.”

On top of these mounting concerns, the couples’ leaseholder service charge has increased by more than 300 per cent from last year – around £2,500 more.

Chris continued: “This money is to go on a survey, upgraded fire systems and potential “waking watch”, the the building is deemed unsafe.

“There are stories all over the UK of flat owners getting bills of £500 a month each for people to patrol in case there is a fire. That’s a new mortgage to most people!”

The Building Safety Fund is in place to protect leaseholders against the cost of the remedial works to their buildings.

The government website states that: “While leaseholders are not able to apply individually for the fund, we are providing feedback form to enable them to let us know the details of their building if they are concerned the owner of their building is not taking sufficient action to remediate unsafe cladding, or is passing remediation costs onto leaseholders.”

A spokeswoman for FirstPort – the maintantence company in charge of Opus House – said: “A survey is due to take place at Opus House to inform the remedial work likely to be required at the building.

“The registration of buildings for the government’s new Building Safety Fund can happen at the same time as survey work being completed, meaning that registering Opus House for funding isn’t being held up by the survey.

“There has been much uncertainty for residents of Opus House and the many thousands of other homeowners nationwide who are living in buildings affected by new safety guidance, so the new government fund is a positive step for residents.

“We are working closely with the building owner, who is responsible for registering the building for funding, and we will of course continue to keep residents updated on progress.”

The couple have also been in touch St Albans MP Daisy Cooper via their residents’ association.

She told the Herts Ad: “The Chancellor’s announcement of an additional £1bn to replace ‘dangerous cladding’ is a good first step but it doesn’t cover a whole host of further measures that buildings need to comply with fire safety laws – including the replacement of fire doors and installing smoke detector systems.

“This is putting the financial burden on leaseholders and here in St Albans the Charrington Place Resident’s Association have told me that individual leaseholders there will face extra charges of around £20,000 per flat.

“In preparation for the necessary works, some service charges have already increased six-fold since the Grenfell tragedy of 2017, so hitting residents with increased charges and a one-off bill of £20,000 is completely unacceptable.

“In addition to the staggering costs, residents are also facing huge delays in trying to move due to a severe shortage of professionals around the country who are insured to sign off the new fire safety survey.

“This is all the more urgent for those who find themselves and their jobs in a precarious situation as a result of COVID-19 and who may need to take significant financial steps. I’m urging the government act to support them and I’ll continue to do everything I can to help my constituents who have been affected by this.”