Editor’s Note: Since the original publication of this article, the UK government has announced a slight change in the cladding fire safety rules. Get the most up to date facts, here.
Following the tragic events of Grenfell Tower, the outside cladding of flats and tower blocks has come under intense scrutiny. Now, with over 350 buildings (and more yet to be discovered) across the UK confirmed as being clad in unsafe, combustible materials, many owners are discovering their homes are worthless. But what if your flat’s cladding is yet to be checked and approved? Does that mean your property, too, is worthless?
Unfortunately, the answer is yes.
Unchecked cladding presents such a profound risk that mortgage lenders are now being incredibly cautious and are unlikely to approve mortgages for any such properties. To confirm how careful they are now being, even buildings clad in so-called ‘low-risk’ materials are falling foul of lender standards, while those clad in high-risk, often metal composite, materials are in breach of new safety guidelines and in-need of immediate address.
How to get your cladding checked
The only way to know if your building is safe is to look at a fire safety report conducted since the new government guidelines were introduced in December 2018. If one has not been completed, this must be done as quickly as possible. Most mortgage lenders are now insisting that an EWS1 survey be completed to ensure fire safety but, due to high demand, these are taking years to complete.
With the majority of leasehold contracts, the landlord will be responsible for ensuring the building is safe, so you need to push them to conduct tests. They should be willing to do so, given how an out-of-date safety report is detrimental to their property’s value.
What if the cladding is confirmed to be unsafe?
If the survey comes back stating that your property is clad in unsafe materials, the landlord will have little option but to replace it. However, the cost of doing so could well come back onto you and your fellow leasehold tenants.
Insurance companies are, by and large, refusing to cover the cost of replacing unsafe cladding because, they argue, when the building was constructed, it complied to fire safety standards of that time.
Some building owners are willingly covering this cost, but most are getting their leasehold tenants to pay for it. This is because the work forms part of the service charge that each tenant pays the landlord for upkeep of the property and its grounds. You will need to carefully check the drafting of your lease agreement to see where you stand.
If your landlord is refusing to address the cladding, it is possible for you and your fellow tenants to band together and pay for the work yourselves, but doing so can cost between £20,000-£90,000 for each individual flat.
If it’s not fixed, you’re stuck
Sadly, there is little good news for us to give you in this article. Unless your cladding is confirmed as being 100% safe, the value of your flat will plummet, and for good reason. But this doesn’t mean you can quickly try and sell your flat before the cladding is checked because, in the eyes of lenders and the majority of buyers, unchecked cladding is dangerous cladding.
Get together with your fellow leasehold tenants right now and demand your landlord conduct the necessary surveys with a matter of urgency. If you don’t, you could well be stuck with a dangerous flat for years to come.
Does the cladding on your flat need checking? What action is your landlord taking? Let us know in the comments section below. And be sure to do the same if you have any cladding-related questions for our resident property expert, Russell Quirk.