Cladding – a continuing nightmare

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Imagine the following scenario. You buy a flat in a 10 year old block in May 2017. The block is comprised of 12 flats arranged over five storeys. It has balconies and attractive cladding that makes it look a cut above other similar buildings in the area.

On 14 June 2017 the horror of Grenfell occurs, putting fire safety in high-rise buildings in the spotlight, in particular the safety (or otherwise) of certain types of modern cladding materials.

You really want now to sell as, apart from safety issues, it is time to move on with your life. You have heard that you require an External Wall System Survey (a so called “EWS1”) to include with the conveyancing documentation to show that your building is safe, but your managing agent tells you that because of the way the building and the external cladding and balconies have been constructed, you cannot obtain one. Your building has been deemed to be a fire risk as the cladding falls within the definition of “unsafe” for the purposes of an EWS1.

You then receive a note from your managing agent advising that the cost of replacing the cladding and making it safe will be £600,000.00.  You are in contact with the other flat owners via a WhatsApp group that you formed, and you know that you have all approached your respective mortgage lenders to see if you can borrow the amounts required to fund the work. However, one of the obstacles to being able to do so is the requirement to obtain an EWS1. Some of your neighbours have also tried to sell their flats. Unfortunately, they too have been asked to provide an EWS1.

Sadly, this is not an unusual situation and it is occurring across the country. I have experienced it at first hand, and witnessed the despair felt by flat owners faced with the unaffordable cost of repair and the absence of support from government.

Even if flat owners try to obtain an EWS1 in circumstances where their building is likely to “pass”, there are not sufficient numbers of suitably qualified surveyors to handle the volume of work that needs to be carried out.

And although an EWS1 is not a statutory requirement, mortgage lenders have made an EWS1 a mandatory element of their lending criteria.

On 21 November 2020 an agreement was reached between RICS UK Finance, building societies and government to the effect that an EWS1 is not required for buildings that did not have cladding. This looked like a reprieve for many flat owners. However, new guidance from RICS issued on 8 March 2021 states that an EWS1 should be obtained for buildings of any height that have high pressure laminate (HPL) cladding and those of five storeys or higher with combustible cladding and linked balconies.

The nightmare therefore continues for many flat owners. Although promises have been made that there will be more surveyors trained to carry out EWS1 surveys, there is a very significant and continuing backlog, not to mention the enormous difficulties faced by flat owners in buildings that “fail” the EWS1 survey and require expensive (and often unaffordable) remedial works.