04 January, 2024
The Grenfell disaster, which unfolded on 14 June 2017, is now known to be one of the UK's worst modern disasters, and for good reason. If you are unfamiliar with what happened, a fire broke out in the Grenfell Tower high-rise 24-storey block of flats in North Kensington. The rate at which the fire spread from the kitchen of a fourth floor flat to all four sides as well as up the building was the alarming part. The spread occurred in a matter of minutes. It is reported that 72 people died. The reason the fire spread so quickly was deemed by Professor Luke Bisby, in his report to the public inquiry, to be the polyethylene material in the cladding which was installed when the building was renovated. As a result of the tragedy, numerous inquiries and legislative changes have been triggered, one of which is the Building Safety Act 2022.
On 28 June 2022, the Building Safety Act 2022 was implemented with the intention of offering protection to qualifying leaseholders from remediation costs necessary for unsafe buildings. Following the Grenfell disaster, it became apparent that there were prominent health and safety issues surrounding cladding, specifically in certain buildings now defined as 'higher risk buildings', which are defined in the 2022 Act as buildings that are above 11 metres in height, or five storeys, and which contain at least two dwellings.
Qualifying leaseholders are deemed to be leaseholders of a property which is situated in said 'high risk building'. To qualify as a leaseholder under the Act, the lease needs to have already been in existence before 14 February 2022. If it did not exist, then the leaseholder may be classed as non-qualifying and in turn be liable for remedial costs, subject to the terms of their lease.
Most notably, building owners will not legally be able to charge qualifying leaseholders (defined under the Act but including those living in their own homes and with no more than three UK properties in total) for any costs in circumstances where a building (in the majority of cases meaning those over five storeys or eleven metres tall) requires cladding to be removed or remediated. Qualifying leaseholders will also have robust protections from the costs associated with non-cladding defects, including interim measures like waking watches. The legislation does not however relate to wear and tear, or routine maintenance. It only applies to situations where the occupants of a building are at risk from structural collapse or fire that is due to unsuitable or defective products used on the building.
So, whilst the legislation offers some protection, it does not necessarily exempt the leaseholder from having to foot the bill for repairs completely. Despite this caveat however, through new leaseholder protection measures, the Act eradicates the idea that leaseholders should be the first port of call to pay for historical safety defects, which is a progressive and necessary change, albeit triggered by a tragic event.
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has not yet been finalised. The Inquiry team announced in November 2023 that they expect to send the full report to the Prime Minister before the next anniversary of the disaster in 2024.
For more information contact Ella A. Khawaja Tucker in our Housing & Regeneration department via email or phone on 0333 207 1130. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.
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