Replacement of Cladding post Grenfell
Q: We have scheduled external redecoration in 2019, and we are given to believe that it is proposed to replace the cladding. In spring this year our residents’ association put in writing our objection to the proposed Intention to carry out works on the cladding as the earlier findings of the Fire Service stated the cladding does not pose any immediate risk. There was an advisory that the cladding be replaced with fire retardant material when redecorated when easy access is available to replace it.
There was a specialist examination to see if the cladding was combustible. Following this visual examination of materials and building structure, it would seem that their ‘Expert Report’ on the type/state of the cladding does not categorically state that the cladding needs to be replaced immediately. The windows currently act as fire breaks between the cladding and we have an exit rather than stay put policy. However, they say this ‘interim arrangement’ should not be used in place of materials that comply with the standards.
In the absence of any ‘official’ demand (but advisory) for cladding replacement when reasonable to do so, the question is as leaseholders we have not requested replacement, so one concludes that it is principally a freeholder initiative. Therefore, under these circumstances is it appropriate/legitimate for the Leaseholders to be expected to pay for this [and what precedents are there for that conclusion]?
FPRA Chairman Bob Smytherman replies:
A: It would certainly appear from the managing agent’s report that there is a potential risk from the cladding currently in place. The Government has certainly stated very publicly in the House of Commons that any cladding deemed to be unsafe should be removed at the expense of the freeholder and not the leaseholders – which is a view I would fully support. The problem is many freeholders and their agents are using clauses in leases to pass on these costs to the service charges.
As a local councillor in Worthing, I do know that our council inspected all high rise blocks after the Grenfell tragedy and concluded none were at immediate risk. However it would appear that may be they have suggested your blocks cladding still should be replaced. My advice would be in the first instance to contact the Building Control Dept at the council and share with them the agent’s report and my advice.
If they conclude that the cladding does require removal on safety grounds I suggest they put this in writing for you to share with your freeholder as they clearly should be removing the cladding at their expense as required by Government. If of course they still insist charging to the service charge we will then need to ask our lawyers for further review of your lease to see if this can be done legally.
[Submitted September 2018]