The Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017 has been the unfortunate catalyst which has rightly brought fire safety to the forefront. For years building regulations have been inadequate and unclear and their enforcement lax. As a result of the tragedy local authorities and private landlords who have properties with cladding are necessarily spending significant sums of money on fire wardens and are investigating how to go about replacing and upgrading their cladding, with the cost expected to run into the millions in the case of many properties.
The Government’s response has led to much criticism. On 22 January 2018 The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Sajid Javid), said in relation to privately owned blocks that: “I have made it clear in the House and since our last oral questions that, just as social landlords are picking up the tab for those changes, and whatever the legal case might be in the event of a private relationship, the moral case is clear: the tab should be picked up by the freeholders of those properties.” The position is far more nuanced than the housing secretary suggests and it might be that insurers, or those who installed the cladding, are, in fact, ultimately responsible.
The questions which arise now are:
- What can be done to ensure fire safety for residents?
- How quickly can the cladding be replaced?
- Who is responsible for arranging and paying for the upgrading?
Both landlords and leaseholders should investigate whether they have any insurance which might cover the costs, but, in the short term, landlords are likely to have to foot the bill and then recover the costs via leaseholders’ service charges (by following the correct consultation procedures), with claims being made simultaneously to any insurers. Thought should also be given to any potential claims against the supplier and installer of the cladding, any previous owners of the property and to claims for professional negligence against conveyancing solicitors for any failure to ensure that building regulations had been complied with.
Investigations are almost certainly going to be required into the types of cladding and whether, despite apparent compliance, they do in fact comply with building regulations. If they do not, that will assist in claims against the original installer/supplier.
We are able to advise freeholders and leaseholders regarding their rights and/or obligations and how best to proceed.
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