Leaseholders in a “tinderbox” apartment block in Manchester have been billed up to £115,000 each to remove unsafe cladding in what is believed to be the biggest charge facing residents since the Grenfell disaster.
Owners of flats in Connect House, in the city’s trendy Ancoats district, said they face financial ruin over the £5.2m cost to make the property safe and have called on the government to intervene.
Sam Treadway, 30, who lives in the building with his partner, Chloe Cooper, 26, and their week-old son, said he was “gobsmacked and devastated” to be told they had to pay about £78,000 to fix work carried out in 2003 – 15 years before he bought the flat.
“It’s caused us extreme stress and our mental health has been suffering, especially having a baby and you’re thinking about potentially being without a home,” he said, adding that they had moved to his grandparents’ home after fire safety reports told him the building was what he described as “a tinderbox”.
Connect House, which comprises 46 flats, is one of at least 300 high-rise buildings in England yet to have dangerous cladding removed three years after the Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people in June 2017. Manchester and Salford have among the highest number of buildings still wrapped in Grenfell-style cladding.
Lucy Powell, the MP for Manchester Central, said: “As an MP with one of the highest numbers of blocks of flats with dangerous cladding in the country, this is one of the highest charges residents have been presented with. It’s completely unacceptable that they’re being asked to fork out through no fault of their own.”
Powell said she had written to the housing minister Christopher Pincher about the leaseholders’ case: “The government need to do a lot more … to support leaseholders trapped in buildings that now require significant remediation works. The whole system of recourse, accountability, insurance, risk assessment is working against leaseholders trapped in the middle with nowhere to go.”
The leaseholders have applied for funding from the £1bn scheme to remove unsafe cladding from highrises over 18 metres, which was announced in the March budget. However, it is thought this would not cover all the work needed, nor the thousands of pounds in additional service charges being billed to the leaseholders.
Artisan, a north-west property firm, owns the freehold to Connect House, which it converted into flats and commercial space in 2003. Leaseholders said the firm failed to install fire insulation and used cheaper combustible timber stud to attach the cladding when carrying out the work.
Artisan said the work was completed “in accordance with all planning laws and building regulations in force at that time”.
A comprehensive fire risk assessment in March found the building unsafe, with the total cost of fixing the defects of £5.2m. Leaseholders were liable for 70% of the cost, with those in bigger flats billed £115,000, with an average charge of £78,000 per flat. Residents have been told that two-thirds of the charge had to be paid by the end of 2021, a bill of £75,900 for those facing the maximum levy.
Treadway said the stress of the charges had been “extremely debilitating”, especially with a new baby, and that he had sought help from his GP. “Boris Johnson has got a new son – surely he wouldn’t want to be in this position. The government fund is our best hope.”
In a letter to Powell, the leaseholders wrote that most of them faced “the devastating prospects of losing our apartments or having to file for bankruptcy as we are simply unable to repay such staggering amounts”.
The UK Cladding Action Group, which campaigns on behalf of residents in unsafe buildings, said the bills were some of the highest they had encountered, but added that many other leaseholders were in the same situation.
“It is an absolute scandal that three years after the Grenfell tragedy leaseholders are prisoners in their own home, living in dangerous buildings due to no fault of their own,” they said.
The group has urged the government to take stronger action against slow-moving building owners, including using compulsory purchase orders to take direct ownership of the freehold of buildings with serious fire safety defects.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has been approached for comment.