The day I got the keys to my lovely little Sheffield flat was the proudest day of my life.
After saving diligently and working part-time through college and university, I was able to buy my first home in April 2019, at the age of 22. Painting the walls in my favourite colours, finding furniture to make the flat my perfect little sanctuary – it felt like all of my hard work had finally paid off.
But despite all the conveyancing checks required by my solicitor and mortgage lender showing no issues, less than two years on from that wonderful day I am now living in an unsafe, unsellable, uninsurable home, as well as facing potential remediation costs of over £30,000 to fix fire safety defects that I played no part in creating. Worse, I’m one of millions trapped in this intolerable position.
The building I live in has been found to be covered in highly flammable insulation similar to that used on Grenfell Tower. Due to changes in government regulations since Grenfell, we must now remove and replace this dangerous insulation in order to secure a safe External Wall Survey (EWS1) form, which is required to sell or remortgage our properties.
To make matters worse, once our building was found to have flammable cladding materials, a more in-depth internal fire safety inspection found a terrifying number of fire safety breaches present since the building was constructed in 2007. This means our building was illegally signed off as ‘safe’ after construction, despite never meeting the required regulations at the time.
Imagine being told to ‘stay home to stay safe’ in a home that has been judged criminally unsafe.
In December, after a horrendous coronavirus-filled year, the fire service concluded that our building was so unsafe that an evacuation notice was served on the 35 apartments on our top five floors, and a ‘waking watch’ fire patrol was enforced on each of the five lower floors. Two weeks before Christmas, 35 families were forced out of their homes – again, during a pandemic – and leaseholders like me were made to pay for the £15,000 per week to maintain the waking watch.
Fast forward one extremely stressful month. Leaseholders paid for an emergency ‘evacuation fire alarm’ to be installed on our top five floors in order to get everyone back home for Christmas, but we are still desperately battling to raise the impossibly large funds to keep the waking watch in place until the full building can be fitted with the alarm.
In less than two years, I have gone from being ecstatic about purchasing my dream first home to living with the constant threat of immediate evacuation and never-ending unexpected, huge bills. I did nothing wrong, and it was impossible to have seen this coming. When buying my home, I was realising the ‘dream’ of home ownership that our current government advocate so much, only to have that dream quickly turn into a nightmare.
The usual service charge for my flat, which I budgeted for when I moved in, is just under £2,000 per year. Since just last December I have paid over £2,500 in additional service charges to cover the cost of fire safety defects. Some leaseholders in my building simply cannot afford these costs and have been unable to pay, leaving us all in an extremely precarious situation.The thought of being forced to pay thousands for something that is not my fault is terrifying. It’s unbearable and overwhelming on a daily basis. How can I possibly be expected to find that sort of money?
I find myself working as a client manager by day and as a ‘cladiator’ by night. Like you reading this, I’m already battling to keep my sanity through this third lockdown – imagine being told to ‘stay home to stay safe’ in a home that has been judged criminally unsafe. Me and millions of other victims of this crisis also live with the often unmanageable stress of expecting life-changing bills at any time whilst constantly fighting for a morally fair solution to end this scandal and give us our lives back.
I am not an expert in this area, but I fail to see how the ‘brightest minds in Whitehall’ could have come up with such a ridiculous, immoral and unworkable ‘solution’.
Despite the glaring injustice of this nightmare and the fact that government ministers have admitted on at least 15 occasions that leaseholders are the innocent victims of this scandal, their current solution looks to be inconceivably unfair long-term loans forced upon our properties. These loans will result in an unaffordable monthly cost to thousands of people, put many, including myself, straight into negative equity, and will make millions of properties unsellable due to the huge and undesirable loans attached to them. I am not an expert in this area, but I fail to see how the ‘brightest minds in Whitehall’ could have come up with such a ridiculous, immoral and unworkable ‘solution’ to this urgent, nationwide crisis.
Tomorrow will be another day, and our fight continues. I keep going by clinging to the hope that the ‘party of home ownership’ will accept the unfairness and painful irony of penalising hard-working people for buying homes in good faith. The government must act to protect leaseholders and uphold this supposed key principle of its party.
Well-developed funding proposals exist which protect the innocent victims of this scandal and ensure those responsible, the developers of the blocks and manufacturers of dangerous material, pay to fix the mess. I hope the government finds their moral conscience, and political will, to implement one of these fair solutions very, very soon.
Leaseholders like me are desperate for some good news soon. We’ve been stuck in this crisis for years, and we just want to have our futures back.
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