High Rise Repairs: Yorkshire's young leaseholders in limbo
Report by Sam Casey
Young first-time buyers have told Calendar about the constant financial and emotional worry of living in flats affected by fire safety problems.
More than half the people who responded to a survey carried out by our programme – looking at the impact of the building safety crisis – were under the age of 35.
Half of them said they were facing potential remediation costs of more than £25,000.
Two thirds have already seen their insurance costs increase – more than a quarter by £200 pounds a month or more.
Robbie Laybourn, who lives at Whitehall Quay in Leeds, says his insurance has gone up by £300 a quarter.
But it is the potential costs he could face if he needs to make a claim which are especially worrying.
He said: "If my boiler was to break and flood the flat below, the excess last year was £800. This year it's £20,000 for issues that are completely non-fire related."
Robbie was only able to afford the flat thanks to money he inherited when his mother died, but he says he would lose the property if he is forced to pay the estimated £100,000 remediation costs.
"It's heartbreaking," he said.
Jenni Garratt, 24, lives at the Wicker Riverside building in Sheffield, which has a range of fire safety problems including wooden balconies and flammable insulation.
In December the building was partially evacuated after it failed safety checks. Residents had to foot the cost of round-the-clock safety patrols, known as waking watch.
Jenni said: "We've paid almost £200,000 as a whole building, basically to be allowed to stay in our homes. Between December and February I paid £2,000 just for the fire safety issues."
An application to the government's Building Safety Fund has passed the initial stage, meaning residents should have some of the remediation costs covered. But there are other issues which are unlikely to be resolved, leaving leaseholders facing potential costs of thousands of pounds.
"The place that's supposed to be my safe haven could ruin me financially," Jenni said.
Maxine Burton's flat at Cartier House at Leeds Dock needs £76,000 of work. She's already had to pay £1,000 for waking watch patrols and is desperate to move, but for now life is on hold.
She said: "Wider decisions around potentially having a family – It's really difficult to explore that when you're potentially facing bankruptcy and that's a really difficult part of it because, while you see friends and family achieving things, making changes in their lives, working towards things, we're stuck here until the issues are resolved and we don't know what that looks like at the moment."
Laura Thompson has no idea yet how much it could cost her to make her flat, at AG1 in Sheffield, safe - and the uncertainty is taking its toll.
"I have anxiety medication that I don't necessarily take it all the time, it's just there and it's comforting to know it's there.
"But with all this that's happening, it's definintely the case that I take it more than what I would have done. It's had an impact on my mental health 100% and it's had an impact on everyone that I've spoken to's mental health as well. People are just hopeless."
What do the managing agents say?
All of the buildings in this report - Whitehall Quay, in Leeds, Cartier House, at Leeds Dock, and the Wicker Riverside and AG1 in Sheffield – have managing agents, who are responsible for their day-to-day running.
Whitehall Quay is run by Watson property management. The company has applied to the government's Building Safety Fund but is waiting to find out if the application has been successful.
Cartier House is managed by LIV Group. They sent us a statement: "As the block managing agent, LIV Group can confirm that Cartier House applied for funding from the Building Safety Fund.
"After a successful appeal process, the majority of the external wall systems at Cartier House will be remediated. Work is expected to begin onsite in September, pending submission of our final application. The project team is actively engaged with contractors on the project to be able to finalise such arrangements.
"We have also sought funding from the council for a new fire alarm system to relieve the waking watch requirement at the site. The safety of our residents remains our utmost concern, and we will continue to work hard to support them throughout this process."
Wicker Riverside is managed by Love Your Block. The company told us its application for funding had passed the initial stages, which means the cost of replacing the external cladding system should be covered.
AG1 is managed by Mainstay. They sent us a statement: "We understand how difficult the uncertainty is for residents and homeowners, and we’re doing all we can to support them. We have submitted an application for funding for the required remedial works through the Building Safety Fund, and we are awaiting the outcome.
"Until this process is completed, we are not able to confirm the amount of eligible available funding. In the meantime, we will continue to keep AG1 residents updated regularly throughout the funding application process."
What does the government say?
An MHCLG spokesperson said: “As set out in the Queen’s Speech today, the Government is bringing forward the biggest improvements to building and fire safety in 40 years.
“This includes a comprehensive £5 billion plan to help protect hundreds of thousands of leaseholders from the cost of making the tallest buildings with the most dangerous cladding safer.
“We will also ensure that industry pays its fair share towards the costs of cladding remediation through a new levy and tax, striking the right balance in protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers.”