The London Fire Brigade has served extensive fire safety notices on all 122 flats at Lait House. These notices are quite extensive and are publicly available at:
The Fire Brigade claim that there are seven breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
Both private tenants and leaseholders live in this block. One landlord apparently owns 9 flats in the block. Conservative Councillor David Jeffreys owns a flat in the block according to his register of interests.
Apparently, an application has been made to the Government’s Fire Safety Fund for financial help to remove the cladding. If the application is successful, it will not cover any other fire safety works that are needed such as defective fire safety breaks. According to Government figures 15 buildings in Bromley have applied to the Government’s building safety fund.
The London Fire Brigade has reported that there are 1,149 buildings in the capital that are so dangerous that they require a waking watch. A waking watch means that residents must pay for fire alarms or set up their own 24-hour fire safety patrols so that the building can be evacuated in case of fire.
It has been reported that such watches can result in a media average cost of £137 per dwelling per month. Although the Government has set up a fund to help with these costs, the demand for help outstrips the available budget. Leaseholders are being made bankrupt as they are obliged to pay these costs as well as the major works. Leaseholders are innocent victims who will not have budgeted for such unexpected costs.
Since Michael Gove MP, has taken charge at the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Government policy has changed on fire safety. Instead of financial help for only certain types of cladding for only blocks over 18 metres and loans for leaseholders living in blocks less than 18 metres, the proposed loans have now been scrapped and the emphasis is now on persuading developers to voluntarily pay for fire safety costs.
If no agreement is forthcoming, legislation is proposed to ensure that developers do pay. The Building Safety Bill is about to become law and Parliament is due to consider crucial amendments shortly.
Leaseholders will be encouraged to sue developers for defective fire safety designs by extending the limitation period under the Defective Premises Act. It is unrealistic to think that all leaseholders can successfully sue large developers.
There are problems with these proposals. Firstly, developers are powerful organisations and will challenge any Government proposals in the courts. They do not take account of huge increases in the costs of insurance in these blocks. The scale of the problem requires urgent action by the state. MP’s have estimated that £15 billion is required to remedy this problem.
Opposition politicians would like to see the UK adopt an Australian approach to this issue. In Victoria , the state Government has set up a Government Agency that arranges for all fire safety work to be done as a priority and then seeks to recover the money from those responsible.
It is remarkable that four years after the Grenfell fire tragedy where 72 people lost their lives that developers are still able to submit planning applications for 51 storey building with only one stair case. Is Government policy driven too much by developers?
Flats are Lait House are currently being advertised for sale on the internet without any mention of the fire safety notices. This will mean unnecessary legal costs are incurred by prospective purchasers after their solicitor carries out legal searches. This omission to mention fire safety defects when advertising properties could be contrary to the consumer protection regulations. Trading standards officers do not enforce such legislation. The Government’s Levelling Up White paper hints at page 225, of reforms in this area.
Much of the debate on fire safety issue in flats does not deal with the safety of private tenants living in these blocks. Should private landlords be able to let properties in blocks of flats that are dangerous and at risk of fire? Should local councils give priority for rehousing to such tenants? In an answer to a council question in December 2021 , Bromley Council would provide no help to any residents at this address,
Bromley Council requires 5 years residence in the borough before being able to submit a rehousing application. This may be inconsistent to their legal obligation to give reasonable preference to applicants living in unsatisfactory accommodation.
There are significant issues in reducing carbon emissions in blocks of flats with fire safety issues. The Government is content for freeholders to charge leaseholders for permission to install solar panels or heat pumps. Freeholder have been given permission to install two extra storeys on blocks of flats without planning permission.
The Government’s recent white paper on levelling up repeats election manifestos to reform the private rented sector by abolishing no fault evictions. It is clear that the Government will need to be pushed to deliver on such reforms.
On a positive note the Government has finally released a consultation paper on moving forward to revive the commonhold tenure. This has been due to relentless pressure from leasehold campaigners such as the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership and the National Leasehold Campaign Group. Under the commonhold tenure the freeholder is replaced by leaseholders via a commonhold association that is made up of all leaseholders.
Most of the English-speaking world has replaced the medieval leasehold system with a form of commonhold. The Conservative Party is too close to the interests of property to implement these and other reforms unless they are compelled to do so.