A 95-year-old resident of a London high rise with Grenfell Tower-type cladding has been taken to hospital after being told he had to pay a share of the £2m bill for repair works, a tribunal has heard.
The freeholder of the Croydon Citiscape apartment block, which is linked to the property tycoon Vincent Tchenguiz, has said it is not obliged to fund the works, while the management company is arguing leaseholders should pay.
Giving evidence at a property tribunal, which will decide who pays, Richard Low-Foon told the judge that he needed “a miracle” to fund the works as his father was now ill and couldn’t sell his flat because of the risk the building carries for any future investor.
“At the moment he is in hospital because of all this. It got too much for him,” said Low-Foon.
He told the tribunal he put his father in a care home before Christmas, on the understanding that he would sell the property to fund his care, but this was no longer possible. “Now I’ve not been able to sell the property because of this,” he said.
Luc Low-Foon owns one of the 93 flats in the building, which is one of 262 blocks around the country so far found to have the same or similar combustible cladding panels as Grenfell, including 161 social housing blocks and 26 student halls of residence.
“I can’t see my way out of this, unless through a miracle we get some funding,” Low-Foon said
The judge expressed his sympathy for the “really difficult situation” the lessees in the block were in, but reminded those attending the tribunal that his jurisdiction was limited in law.
The cladding was discovered less than a month after the Grenfell Tower fire but the tribunal heard it may not be replaced until the leaseholders pay for the work. The management company, FirstPort, has taken the case to the property tribunal for a determination on who is liable for costs.
Last year the government wrote to private landlords advising them to get their cladding tested but it has not revealed how many private blocks around the country are affected.
Initially, the management company estimated the works would cost leaseholders £31,500 each. This related to an early estimate for the works of £485,000 and the £4,000-a-week cost of fire marshals. FirstPort subsequently revised the cost of works to £2m and the work may not be done before September.
The management company had told the property tribunal in London that the work could take another eight to 12 months to complete, even if it did have the money to carry it out.
“The longer matters remain unresolved, the [longer] continuation of the fire watch costs will be incurred and that is something that is both in the interests of the applicant and respondent to resolve,” said Robert Bowker, counsel for FirstPort.
FirstPort is a large property management company that looks after 185,000 homes in 3,700 developments, the tribunal heard.
The problematic cladding was identified in the building in June 2017, shortly after the Grenfell disaster.
The management company, which is seeking a determination on the “payability” from the property tribunal, told the judge on Tuesday it could not borrow to fund the works after being declined credit by the Royal Bank of Scotland.
“I know I’ve been told the bank wouldn’t lend to us for us that but they would be willing to lend to individual leaseholders,” said Paul Atkinson, a regional director of FirstPort
Asked what would happen if the residents did not stump up the money, Atkinson told the judge, Angus Andrew, that it would be “a difficult situation” and FirstPort was lobbying the housing minister and local MPs for support. “FirstPort is acutely aware of the significant impact on the leaseholders of these works,” he said.
In his opening remarks, the judge warned that the case would not be a legal precedent for any of the other private blocks around the country that have been found to have defective cladding in the wake of the Grenfell disaster.
He said it was “a matter of lease interpretation” of the contract between the freeholder and leaseholder and management company, which is specific to each block.
“Any decision we come to cannot be read across to another block of flats. It doesn’t set a precedent,” the judge said.
The tribunal heard that the deployment of fire marshals should have been an interim measure, had the management company followed fire safety guidance note on waking watches for purpose-built high-rise blocks
Amanda Gourlaycounsel for the leaseholders, told the judge that the fire watch was only ever designed to be a temporary solution upon discovery of a high-risk fire issue. A common fire alarm system was “the preferable approach where cladding is on buildings”, Gourlay said
So far, the fire marshals have been in the building for 33 weeks at a cost of more than £132,000.
Referring to the guidance, Gourlay said having fire marshals patrolling the building was “likely to be least reliable, most resource-intensive and may not be suitable for the highest-risk situations”.
The judge asked Gourlay: “Is your argument twofold – it was unnecessary to have a waking watch and they should have put in fire alarms, and in any event they didn’t implement the waking watch effectively?” Gourlay replied: “Yes.”
FirstPort was unable to provide written evidence to support its decision regarding the deployment of fire marshals other than a reference to a telephone discussion among its senior staff at the management company.
Judgment was reserved until a later date.