Published: 19:23, 15 April 2021
| Updated: 11:05, 16 April 2021
Flat owners in Chatham fear going bankrupt after being forced to pay to fix unsafe cladding on their buildings.
As part of a government review into fire safety following the Grenfell Tower disaster, any leaseholders or outright owners of apartments in buildings under 18 metres must pay for remedial works.
KMTV reports on the issue facing residents at Chatham Maritime
The fire at the west London tower block which killed 72 people triggered a systemic review into the safety of cladding around high-rises and apartment blocks throughout the UK.
For Georgina Revell and her neighbours at The Wharf in Chatham Maritime it means their homes are worthless until the fixes are carried out and proposals tabled by the government will mean they have to foot the bill.
"You can't sell and can't re-mortgage, you're blighted and if you're trying to move because of jobs you can't," Georgina told KentOnline.
"I couldn't get a loan because you don't get a loan at my age so you're stuffed really. It's very stressful for people."
A mixture of tenants and leaseholders live in the flats around Chatham Maritime.
Tenants are living in potential firetraps and leaseholders will bear the brunt of financial ruin in now worthless flats.
Mortgage companies won't agree to lend money meaning existing owners cannot sell and they are unable to re-mortgage either leaving them in a desperate financial position.
All buildings must receive an EWS1 standard for owners and buyers to get a mortgage but many buildings – including The Wharf – fall below that standard.
"Perhaps it's not so bad for me because I'll be carried out in a box," Georgina added. "But for young people and middle aged people moving around it's very difficult for them.
"They've put their life savings into these flats and they can't move or do anything. They're very stressed.
"I bought my flat four years ago and it was to be where I retired to which I've done and like it very much here.
"This all came about a year after Grenfell when they reviewed all the legal points of health and safety and fire risk. Then the bombshell hit for everybody.
Georgina said: "It has to be done and we understand that and Grenfell was shocking. But we're not sure we should have to pay for it.
"You buy a flat in good faith and sink your life savings or get a mortgage and then it isn't safe.
"That insecurity and feeling of being safe is very difficult.
"When they were built 10-12 years ago they were up to standard so you can't blame the builders or council because they followed the protocol at the time.
"But you can be cross about it which I think most of us are."
It is estimated the cost of remediation works could reach as much as £20,000 per flat meaning the total works for the 140 flats could reach almost £3 million.
The problem facing owners in The Wharf is that the building sits under the 18m height threshold set by government which would mean it would pay for repairs.
It means for Georgina and her neighbours, they will simply have to "pay up" out of their own pockets.
She criticised the height rule saying it seemed to an "arbitrary" level which has been set entirely at random with no real explanation from officials.
"It's a lot of people's lives at a standstill, we don't know how long it will be and we don't know when the work will be carried out," Georgina said.
"Financially the properties are just not worth anything at the moment so you couldn't sell because you'd be in negative equity if you did sell and have a mortgage.
"The financial implication of having a loan are enormous on top of a mortgage and the annual charges here. It's not what you sign up for.
"It's quite arbitrary to say if you're under 18 metres 'sorry you've got to pay' but if you're at 19 metres you don't have to.
"I think some people will go bankrupt because they can't afford the additional loan on top of the mortgage payments.
"Money is tight now and lots of people don't have jobs, will go bankrupt and lose everything. That's the bottom line, it's just not very fair."
"Some people will go bankrupt because they can't afford the additional loan on top of the mortgage payments..."
The building's cladding is not deemed fire retardant according to a letter sent to residents, Georgina says.
But with a limited number of surveyors across the country, high rise buildings being prioritised and each affected one needing to be done at the same time, it is set to be an agonising wait for residents to find out when the work can be carried out.
Only once the work has taken place can a new certificate of the standard mortgage companies will accept be applied to a building.
The situation for residents in Chatham is not unique and is replicated across the country.
Residents say they feel isolated and a national campaign, the UK Cladding Action Group (UKCAG) is working hard to unite affected leaseholders and residents and lobby government.
Georgina says she's had very little support or help from her MP Kelly Tolhurst regarding the issue and is asking for more assistance to put more pressure on ministers.
"We'd like some form of assistance from the government in terms of this grant of £1.6bn which won't be enough for everybody."
Residents in the building are holding regular meetings via Zoom and discuss the issues on a WhatsApp group as well as joining in with the latest UKCAG updates.
Rochester and Strood MP Ms Tolhurst said: "I know this situation is incredibly challenging for residents at The Wharf and I have had a large amount of correspondence with them.
"I am working hard with colleagues in government to urge them to go further in whatever way they can to provide support for leaseholders.
"In buildings of 11-18 metres, with a lower risk to safety, leaseholders will gain new protection from the costs of cladding removal through a financing scheme so that leaseholders will never pay more than £50 a month.
"I believe it is also important to ensure the largest property developers pay their fair share and the government are also introducing a developer levy and a new tax."
Ms Tolhurst said amendments tabled during the recent debate which set out the payment plan were not practical as it would have required "extensive redrafting of primary legislation" and cause delays to the bill passing through parliament.
"The Fire Safety Bill does not have the required legislative detail needed to underpin the proposed McPartland-Smith amendments," the Tory MP added.
"These amendments would result in significant delays to the implementation of the Fire Safety Bill and the crucial measures it puts forward to improve the fire safety regulatory system – that was my main concern with voting down the Fire Safety Bill.
"I have also been in contact with the building’s management company and have been assured that they fully understand the concerns of and challenges that leaseholders at the Wharf are currently facing.
"They are committed to continue to communicating regularly with their shared owners, outright owners and tenant in terms of the works required, timescales and potential costs."