Limehouse leaseholders vow to take legal action against Tower Hamlets Council over £2m repair bill
PUBLISHED: 07:00 01 April 2020
Homeowners have vowed to take legal action against a London council over a £2 million repair bill to protect their homes from collapse if there was a large explosion or intense fire.
Leaseholders in Brewster and Malting House tower blocks, in Limehouse, have been told they will have to pay between £63,000 and £85,000 for structural work to their homes.
The charges were agreed by Tower Hamlets Council’s executive mayor during a meeting last week, which residents were not allowed to attend because of the coronavirus lockdown.
Belinda Le Mesurier, who owns a one-bed in Brewster, said: “The leaseholders are appalled at how the council has handled this whole procedure. We are tired, we are worried, we are stressed. We believe that this whole case is well over and above any reasonable request any home owner would be subjected to. We plan on fighting this at a First Tier Tribunal.”
The blocks were built as council housing in the Sixties and contains 112 flats, 32 of which are now owned by leaseholders. All residents face having to leave their homes for a period while the work is completed over 22 months.
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Tower Hamlets Council said the problems were found after flammable cladding was stripped from the buildings in 2018.
Engineers Wilde Carter Clack found the blocks required “intrusive structural strengthening, as [they are] at risk of progressive structural collapse in the event of an explosion and possibly following an extremely intense fire, which could cause floors to buckle”. The buildings are not at risk of collapse otherwise and the council concedes an explosion is unlikely because the towers do not contain piped gas.
The council started consulting with leaseholders about the charges last year when the costs were estimated to be around £55,000. Leaseholders in council properties are protected from huge bills by “Florrie’s Law” — named after Florence Bourne, 93, who died after being unable to pay £50,000 for the refurbishment of her block in Newham in 2013.
The government capped the amount local authority leaseholders have to pay for repairs at £15,000. However, it only applies if works are partly funded by a central government grant. If not, the council can pass on the entire cost.
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs said the council has offered to buy back the flats and he has written to the secretary of state for housing to ask for funding.
He said: “I do acknowledge their concerns. It is a very stressful position. We think this is an extraordinary decision and clearly we think the [government] should make funds available to us.
“But in legal terms leaseholders need to be charged for these repairs and we know leaseholders may want to challenge that through the appropriate channels. We have had representations about the potentially financially crippling service charges. We are very clear that the structure works are the right thing to do.”
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