Siding victim faces bankruptcy even if repair bill is paid
A siding victim has revealed she faces bankruptcy within the next 18 months, even if the government pays her repair bill.
Charlotte Meehan, 33, said landlords of flats in her east London apartment building were being ‘bled’ by the skyrocketing cost of interim fire safety measures that have been put in place pending the start sanitation works.
These stopgap measures had so far racked up bills of nearly £500,000 for residents for a watch over Bow development, she said.
They are levied on top of the standard service charge and she is also concerned that a huge bill could arrive for other fire defects that are not coating and are not covered by any government assistance.
Charlotte Meehan, 33, (pictured) said landlords of flats in her east London building were being ‘bled’ by soaring costs for interim fire safety measures
Ms Meehan has warned that she – and many others like her, including her husband who she bought the flat with – risk bankruptcy in the coming months, although she welcomed the announcement of the housing secretary this week.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levels, Housing and Communities, said tenants were ‘trapped’ and it was time to protect them and make the ‘industry pay’.
He announced that tenants living in blocks under 18m – including Ms Meehan’s block at 15m – would not have to pay their surfacing repair bills. Only those who lived in buildings taller than 18 meters previously had access to the Fire Safety Fund.
He said: ‘We will drop proposals for long-term loans and debt for tenants in mid-rise buildings and ensure that no tenant living in their own flat will pay a penny to repair unsafe flooring.’
This is good news for affected tenants who have faced financially crippling bills for the remediation work, often running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.
However, the current reality for many of these apartment owners is that they still face massive bills to cover temporary fire measures such as alarm clocks.
Mr Gove’s announcement this week was welcomed by Ms Meehan and her husband, but she said soaring service charges were already starting to take their toll.
Their service fee covers the cost of a wake-up watch, which she says has already cost her almost £500,000 for the 96-unit development in east London over the past 18 months.
The couple bought the one-bedroom flat in 2016 for £362,000, and have seen the costs run into the thousands of pounds already – and that’s even before the cost of the remediation works.
Other developments affected by the cladding crisis are also seeing their insurance costs soar.
A standby bill for residents of the building of £293,500 a year including VAT has resulted in charges of around £490,000 over the past 20 months.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline Property, Ms Meehan said: “I’m cautiously optimistic about Gove’s announcement as it at least gets us into the conversation, I’m still not sure if it goes far enough to force the developers to to pay.”
“We all want the remediation costs, as well as the historical, present and future costs of the security measures put in place while we wait for them to be remedied.
“Our argument has always been that we are a building connected to a block of more than 18 meters.
“Remediating the part of the building that is above 18 meters and leaving the rest below 18 meters means that fire spread is still significant.”
But she added: ‘There are some key elements missing from Gove’s announcement, including other fire safety flaws apart from the cladding which are not included. Two-thirds of our bill would be for repairs to fire defects on the exterior of the siding. It is concerning that tenants still have to pay for these.
“Another is that we are bled dry. I haven’t seen housekeepers in our common areas in months. You can imagine what that looks like. He is still ten years old and covered in graffiti. It is in a state of extreme disrepair.
“What happens to people like us who have no money left to do normal repairs because it’s all gone from our waking watch?”
Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns over cladding have become a national issue
She suggested the development’s £500,000 bill left her reserve funds “decimated”.
She went on to explain, “These interim costs are outrageous and putting people out of business now. Gove doesn’t look at them and that’s my big concern.
“Our service fees have doubled in the last year and yet our salaries have not increased so we cannot afford to pay them.” We will have nothing.
These interim costs are exorbitant and are putting people out of business now. Gove don’t look at them and that’s my big concern
“Not only do we have a service charge that increases to cover the cost of these additional fire safety measures while we wait to see if we are going to be repaired, but the service charge also increases because the reserve funds have been used and there is nothing to pay for normal daily maintenance work.
“The government needs to look at all the aspects that have affected tenants as a result of the fire safety buildings crisis.
“We have some savings, but it’s just a little money to cover something like our boiler breaking down or to help us start a family.”
“We wouldn’t be able to pay if we got an unexpected service charge bill of £10,000, and I don’t know how they expect us to come up with all that money.”
The cost of its remediation work is on top of any ongoing service charge bills. All fire safety measures outside of cladding systems, such as combustible insulation or missing cavity barriers, are unlikely to be covered by Gove’s latest funding announcement.
The eve of its development has so far cost £244,608 a year plus VAT, a total of £293,500, and has been in place for 20 months.
Ms Meehan said: “People are already out of pocket and even going bankrupt just because of stopgap measures.
“Interim security measures bankrupt people, not just remediation costs. You are supposed to feel safe at home, but we cannot relieve ourselves of this financial burden. We were forced to be here through no fault of our own and it is torture.