Leaseholder system is broken, Mayor of London says

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside Parliament on Thursday to protest over issues faced by the nation’s leaseholders as the Mayor of London warned the system is “broken”.

Building owners and landlords must share important building safety information with their residents, Sadiq Khan said, as he called for action to address safety concerns and rebuild trust with leaseholders.

More than four years after the Grenfell Tower fire, some leaseholders in the capital still fear for their safety, are unable to sell their homes or been left facing hefty bills to fix cladding issues, he said.

The mayor’s comments came as leaseholders, politicians and campaigners met in central London for the Leaseholders Together rally, which aimed to draw attention to issues faced by England’s 4.6 million leaseholders including building safety, cladding, ground rents, service charges and insurance hikes,

Cladding leaseholders rally
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan speaks to protesters (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Khan addressed demonstrators at the rally, calling for new Housing Secretary Michael Gove to meet leaseholders and hear their stories.

He said: “I’ve met leaseholders who are at the end of their tether contemplating suicide. I’ve met leaseholders not able to pay the service charges that they’re required to pay.

“I’ve met leaseholders being forced to pay for Waking Watch because the Government has delayed making their homes safe.

“What I fail to understand is how anybody who spent time with the Grenfell Tower community doesn’t feel a sense of urgency to make all our homes safe.”

The mayor added the leaseholder system is “broken”.

“This isn’t just an issue about cladding,” he said.

“This is an issue about the leaseholder system being broken. And that’s at the core of this.”

Speaking ahead of the event, the mayor said: “The current building safety situation is a scandal and a crisis – and it appears that the Government are still not willing to properly address it.

Cladding leaseholders rally
A woman demands that developers pay repair bills (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“We cannot go on like this. Building owners must act now to rebuild trust with leaseholders. This can only be achieved through communication and transparency, accompanied by robust changes to the building safety regulatory system.”

Leaseholder Danielle Harper, 28, came to the rally, organised by the End Our Cladding Scandal with the National Leasehold Campaign and charity Leasehold Knowledge Partnership, to urge the Government to provide support.

Ms Harper bought her leasehold in London three years ago, and found out that the cladding in the building is unsafe nine months later.

Leaseholders in the building initially had to pay for a Waking Watch, a system where a building is patrolled to ensure warning is given in the event of a fire.

A fire alarm, which leaseholders also had to pay for, was later installed.

Ms Harper told the PA news agency: “Our management company applied for the Building Safety Fund, the money from the Government, in order to remediate the building.

Cladding leaseholders rally
Protesters are seeking help from the Government over repair bills for their properties (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Luckily our building was successful in this but we’re still waiting on the payment from the Government in order to start the remediation.”

Alison Smith, 32, bought a flat in Leeds city centre and found out that the building is not safe a few years ago due to an issue with the cladding system which will cost over £21 million to fix.

She said she may have to contribute to this, telling PA: “For me that’s a possible bill of anything up £60,000 or beyond so it’s just been a nightmare the past couple years, waiting to hear what’s going to happen.”

She is hoping to receive money from the Building Safety Fund but has yet to hear if she has been successful.

Geeta Nanda, chair of G15, the group of London’s largest housing associations, and chief executive of Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), said: “We fully agree that accurate, timely, and transparent communications with residents are critical in responding to the building safety challenges that have emerged in recent years.

“G15 members are investing over £2.9bn in the next 10 years in vital building safety works and have created dedicated teams from within existing resources to ensure that important fire safety information is shared with residents in an accessible way.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We’re spending over £5 billion to fund the replacement of unsafe cladding in the highest risk buildings and are making the biggest improvements to building safety in a generation.

“We’ve been clear throughout that building owners and industry should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders – and our new measures will legally require owners of high-rise buildings to prove they have tried all routes to cover the cost of essential safety works.

“Alongside this, our ambitious leasehold reforms will benefit millions of homeowners by ending unfair practices in the leasehold market and delivering on our commitment to set ground rents to zero on new leases.”