in the back
The big bill for blighted flats
After Grenfell, Issue 1457
WHILE councils are picking up the costs of both removal of dangerous Grenfell-style cladding from their housing stock and interim fire safety precautions, the hapless owners of leasehold flats in private blocks have problems of their own.

Suddenly finding their flats blighted, some have already been landed with worrying interim bills for fire cover and estimates for cladding replacement. In the meantime, lawyers are rubbing their hands at the prospect of deciding who is liable for the cheap and unsafe cladding on the blocks – whether builder, regulator, freeholder or leaseholder.

Some of the bills are staggering, too. At the 350-flat Reflexion flats in Hounslow – built by Barratt above the Blenheim shopping centre in 2006 – 16 fire marshals are on site every day and night, costing £165,000 a month. The site is owned by Legal & General and managed by Rendall & Rittner.

‘Gesture of goodwill’
Legal & General, the freeholder, has decided on careful reflection that it will pick up the eventual multimillion-pound bill “as a gesture of goodwill”. This was announced after the charity the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership raised the issue, and it marks an abrupt reverse on previous policy. Leaseholders had already been billed £1,500 each, with every indication that the bill for replacing the cladding – deemed safe as recently as this April – would land on their doorstep.

There’s no sign yet that the freehold owner of the far smaller 97-flat Citiscape site at Frith Road in Croydon will make a similar gesture. The freeholder there is Proxima GR, one of the freehold-owning entities that are owned by Vincent Tchenguiz’s British Virgin Island-based Tchenguiz Family Trust. The repair bill has been estimated at £750,000, and two fire marshals, currently employed around the clock, cost £20,000 a month.

Property manager FirstPort – which Tchenghuiz used to own when it was called Peverel – sent out interim demands for £5,000 per leaseholder. These have now been withdrawn, although some flat owners were immediately charged via direct debit. FirstPort has said it intends to take the issue of liability for the full cost to a tribunal so that there is no further question that either it or its client – Tchenguiz – picks up the tab.

Meanwhile, in Slough, after Grenfell cladding was discovered on a block called Nova House, its freehold owner, Ground Rent Estates 5 Ltd, has apparently decided to happily accept Slough council’s £1 offer to buy it. Although the council had been spooked into the purchase and is funding the costs of interim fire protection, it is by no means clear whether it will pick up the tab to refurbish the building, where the 70-odd flats are all privately owned.

What is clear, however, is that if leaseholders are held liable, many will be unable to pay, finding themselves not only unable to sell their homes but also likely to lose them.

KCTMO dear…

MORE on the Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, widely criticised for failing to address safety concerns raised by Grenfell Tower’s residents in the years preceding last June’s devastating fire.

Scheduled to be held last month, KCTMO’s annual general meeting was called off after lawyers for some of the fire’s survivors protested that many had not received formal notification. Any decisions reached at the meeting would therefore be invalid and in breach of the law.

In fact, KCTMO had failed to contact many residents who suffered as a consequence of the fire because it hadn’t bothered to ascertain their current addresses. But instead of coming clean about this, KCTMO claimed the AGM had been postponed because of its desire “to give tenants more information”. If only!

Meanwhile, KCTMO accounts filed with Companies House on 2 November reveal that the four most senior managers pocketed 5.2 percent pay increases three months before the Grenfell fire. The increase took their combined wage bill to £800,000 - a sum that would have paid for a sprinkler system in Grenfell four times over.

More top stories in the latest issue:

Postgraduate business students faced detention and deportation after raid on shop where they were doing research.

A vulnerable inmate was found hanging in the ‘safer custody unit’ at HMP Parc, four months after inspectors warned against using CCTV to monitor cells with obvious blind spots.

Another outsourcing cock-up with the Whitehall payroll leaves many civil servants out of pocket.

Police have made a first arrest following the investigation into 12 deaths and treatment of 31 other residents at homes run by Sussex Health Care.

Award-winning Bristol pub landlady faces eviction as Ei Group decides to bring her successful business under direct management.

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Next issue on sale: 12th December 2017.
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12th December 2017
In This Issue private eye
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Private Eye Issue 1456