Flat owners today urged the Government to protect them from huge bills to fix unsafe homes that could leave them in “financial ruin”.
Hundreds of protesters gathered on Parliament Square for the Leaseholders Together rally to demand the Building Safety Bill be reformed.
They chanted “enough is enough” while placards read: “You built it, you fix it,” “Endless worry and stress” and “Can’t pay won’t pay”.
The crowd fell silent for 72 seconds in honour of the 72 lives lost in the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14, 2017.
An estimated 850,000 people live in homes with dangerous cladding and fire safety defects, the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign group say.
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They estimate up to 3.6 million people could wait a decade or more to sell their homes because they must prove the walls are safe – and cannot.
Leaseholders are facing extortionate costs to fix buildings they do not own and warn many will be left bankrupt.
London mayor Sadiq Khan told the rally 1,000 buildings in the capital remain unsafe. He said: “I’ve met leaseholders whose dreams of owning a flat came true and turned into nightmares.”
Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “We’re going to vote and vote again against anything that fails to deal with the issue.”
Will Martin, of End Our Cladding Scandal, said: “We need the Government to finally hold true to promises made to protect us from paying to fix safety defects we didn’t cause.”
The Ministry for Housing said: “These figures are speculative. We are spending over £5billion to make buildings safer.”
Bankruptcy is my only option
Julie Fraser, a leaseholder in Runcorn, Cheshire, bought her apartment five years ago as an investment for £75,000.
The 58-year-old grandmother said: “I used a big chunk of cash that would have been for my retirement to buy it.
“I have rheumatoid arthritis and I’m not able to work anymore so I needed something to invest in so that I would have an income.”
But at the end of 2019 she found out her building has unsafe cladding on it and won’t get funding because it’s under 18 metres.
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“We are potentially looking at a bill of between £30,000 to £40,000 each but we have not been given a figure yet.
“I don’t know what I will do – no lenders will lend any money so we can’t borrow.
“Do I then dip into what I have left of my pension? Why should it come out of my pension fund?
“There’s nothing fair about this.”
Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her first flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 2017 for around £230,000.
But after it emerged the cladding is non compliant with building regulations and her block has missing fire breaks, she received an invoice for £208,000 last month.
She is yet to find out how much financial assistance – if any – she will get.
“The fact that I might have to pay that and with interest is distressing,” Sophie told The Mirror. “I got engaged two years ago but I don’t know whether to get married to my fiancé because will the financial crisis I’m in damage him? If I go bankrupt will he go bankrupt?”
The marketing manager added: “If I have to pay it, it’s going to be a life long loan. My life will be ruined by it.”
Will Broome, 49, bought his one bedroomed flat in Fulham, South West London, in 2007 as shared ownership for around £300,000.
But his building has got ACM cladding and missing fire breaks and he said every time there’s a fire alarm there is concern.
The artist said his block has been billed £1.9million in total though it’s uncertain what their individual bills are – and “there’s confusion over whether we will get funding”.
“I don’t have that money, I don’t think I would have any option other than to go bankrupt. There’s no way anyone can lay the blame on leaseholders. It’s a failure of government, rules and regulations and developers but not us. I did what I was told and tried to get on the property ladder.”