ANGRY residents at a block of flats are trapped in a £3.2m row over the bill to fix dangerous cladding.
The 69 flat owners in Vista in Goldsmith Avenue, Fratton, Portsmouth, face a bill of between £33,000 and £47,000 each to repair the cladding, which has been deemed dangerous as it was fitted incorrectly when the building was built in 2009.
The original builder – Linden Homes – is locked in a row over who should foot the bill with the current owner Aviva Investors REaLM Ground Rent fund, which bought the freehold on the building in 2013.
But while the companies argue, the residents have been lumbered with a huge bill, up to a quarter of what they paid for their flats, meaning they cannot sell, or move.
Soldier Shane Whittingham, 33, is furious after his mortgage on a new home fell through as he could not sell his third-floor two-bed flat due to being £47,000 in maintenance arrears.
He said there has been a long list of defects with the building – such as cracks, flooding of the car park and heating failure – since he bought the flat and he had raised the issue of the corroding screws in the cladding in 2011.
He said: ‘It is disgusting. The fact is people save their whole life to buy a property. I want the companies to face up to their responsibilty so I’m not left with a bill of £47,000 – it’s not my burden to bear.’
Since the row broke out, after a report deemed the cladding dangerous to passing pedestrians in 2016, the block has been covered in scaffolding and plastic sheeting.
Rob Shaffery, 59, a safety and environment engineer who has lived in Vista since 2009, said the residents were fed up of living in a ‘plastic bubble’.
He said: ‘It’s a nightmare. We are living in a plastic bubble. It is horrendous. The behaviour of these companies is shocking. They are taking it out on the leaseholders and it’s not fair.’
The leaseholders have set up a committee in the hope of fighting the fee.
A spokesman from Linden Homes South said: ‘We are aware of the situation regarding the cladding at Vista and take the concerns of residents seriously.
‘We have engaged solicitors who are working with Aviva, the freehold owner of the development, to discuss the appropriateness of the proposed remedial solution. We hope the situation will be resolved promptly for the benefit of the residents.’
A spokesman for the Aviva Investors REaLM Ground Rent fund said: ‘The fund understands that Linden was aware of the defective installation of the cladding prior to the sale. Linden has not accepted any liability to undertake works to the cladding.
‘Linden sold off the apartments to individual owners/buy-to-let investors on 125-year leases, which require the landlord to maintain and repair the building and the leaseholders to meet those costs through a service charge.
‘Although the leaseholders have a liability for the cost of the works via the service charge, the fund is actively seeking to make a recovery from Linden and will support the leaseholders in their own claims under a building insurance guarantee policy.
‘The fund has informed the leaseholders that the service charge will not be chased or enforced at the current time.’
Expert says group should team up and take action
CONSUMER expert Richard Thomson said the residents could have a case to fight the fee as he thinks that Aviva should have checked properly for defects when they bought the block.
Mr Thomson, who writes The News’ Streetwise pages, said the best chance the residents had of fighting the huge repair bills for the faulty cladding would be to team up and pursue a group case.
The residents would have initially signed a lease agreeing to pay for all repairs, making them liable, but Mr Thomson said they could argue this.
He said: ‘There are two ways in which they could challenge this fee.
‘The residents should get together and seek legal advice. If the landlord was negligent in not getting the building adequately surveyed when they bought it, then they could pursue a group case for negligence.
‘The other way is through a legal principle called estoppel – a doctrine that may be used in certain situations because a person has relied on statements or promises from another party.
‘The residents could argue that it is manifestly unfair to enforce this fee on them.’
A large majority of the leaseholders bought their flats from Linden Homes when they were new.
As such, Mr Thomson said the National House Building Council – the standard setting body and leading home construction warranty and insurance provider for new and newly-converted homes in the UK – would have provided a two-year guarantee on the properties.
As the need for extensive repairs has fallen outside of that timeframe, there is a 10-year ongoing liability from the council – however this is not very extensive.