One of the UK’s largest private landlords has been ordered to pay £16 million towards the cost of fixing cladding-related fire safety problems at a group of five residential towers in London.
The complicated and long-running case, which principally involved Triathlon Homes, Get Living and a management company called EVML jointly owned by the two firms, will have ramifications for leaseholders who are struggling to get their freeholders to remediate blocks that feature fire safety problems.
Get Living is a built-to-rent operator with a portfolio of properties in London and Manchester worth £2.6 billion and featuring some 4,000 homes across multiple sites.
The case involves five blocks of flats at East Village within the 2012 Olympic site in Stratford which included a huge development of athletes’ accommodation built by the Government but later sold off to private investors to be converted into some 1,400 affordable homes (Triatholon) and 1,500 market rent (Get Living) properties.
But following the Grenfell fire in 2017, which saw 73 people die after cladding caught fire and engulfed the 25-storey building, it was found that the five apartment blocks involved in this case featured severe cladding-related fire risks as well, but not the kind found at Grenfell.
To simplify the 59-page judgement, Triathlon then sought a ‘remediation contribution order’ against Get Living, with which it had a ‘complicated' relationship, to ensure enough money will be available to fund the huge costs of removing and replacing cladding at the development under the 2022 Building Safety Act, even though some of the £24.5 million costs are being financed through public grants.
The case is important because it’s the first time an organisation has used the Act to force a large and well-known company ‘associated’ with a freeholder (i.e. Get Living) to contribute to remediation costs via a Tribunal hearing.
The Act seeks to stop wealthy property owners from dodging their remediation cost responsibilities by hiding behind financially weak ‘front’ companies, although there is no suggestion that Get Living sought to do this in this case.
Nevertheless, this is not a dry technical case – the Tribunal heard from three Triathlon leaseholders whose lives have been on hold for years now as they wait for remediation work to be finished within the five blocks so that they can sell their homes and move on with their lives.
This they will hopefully be able to do soon, now that the Tribunal has ordered Get Living to pay EVML £16 million, £767, 438 to sort out each building’s fire alarms and £1.158 million in ‘additional costs’ to Triathlon for its earlier preparatory work.
“Drawing together all of the analysis, including our analysis of the facts of this case, and taking into account all the relevant circumstances of this case, we conclude that it is just and equitable to make the remediation contribution orders sought by Triathlon,” the judgement from Justice Edwin Johnson and Mart Rodger KC says.
A spokesperson for Get Living tells LandlordZONE: “Our driving force remains to complete the remediation works in East Village, which are well underway, for the sake of all residents, be they Triathlon or Get Living.
"The decision from the First-Tier Tribunal has no bearing on our commitment to continue this important work.
"We are, of course, disappointed that the Tribunal has deemed it ‘just and equitable’ that we be held responsible for remediation costs, given that Get Living did not build the development and was not responsible for the retrofit of the Athletes’ accommodation into homes afterthe 2012 Olympic Games.
"The judgement recognises this by acknowledging that Get Living was not involved in, or privy, to any decisions around the design or construction of the buildings.
"The judgement states that ‘responsibility (in theBuilding Safety Act)… is not synonymous with fault’ and we continue to work hard to fix this problem we did not create, given the overriding importance of getting the works done.
"The implications of this judgement are profound, not just for Get Living, but for the wider industry.
"We are reviewing our next steps, while pursuing claims against the responsible contractors, and pushing ahead with our programme of remediation works in East Village.”
Get Living has 28 day to appeal the decision.
Picture credit: Get Living.