Leaseholders in building sheathed in flammable Grenfell cladding sent a £2m bill for repairs

In the UK, many people who live in multiunit buildings — the sort of thing that would be a condo or co-op in the US — live under the leaseholder/freeholder system, a relic of feudalism that has been updated for the age of inequality thanks to hedge funds and other socially useless financial engineers.

Under the freehold system, the buildings are technically owned by some old aristocrat (the "freeholder") or, these days, some kind of private equity crook who's bought the freehold. The flats aren't "owned" at all, but rather leased for very long terms (99 to 999 years) and while the leases have come under increasing regulation, you can still lose the home you "bought" to your freeholder if you neglect to undergo the lease renewal process, and leaseholders often make this process as difficult as possible in the hopes of swooping in and claiming ownership over the flats in "their" buildings.

Instead of an elected co-op board or a condo board that collects fees from the residents and uses them to maintain the buildings, freeholders simply levy a "service charge" from the leaseholders and decide what they want to do with it — and those decisions can be expensive (memorably, my freeholder once sent builders around without notice to tear out all my doors and windows and replace them with double glazing, sending us the bill for £10,000, with the threat of losing our homes if we failed to pay up).

Which brings us to the Citiscape complex in Croydon, which is sheathed in the same highly flammable cladding that killed dozens of people in Grenfell Tower in 2017. The difference here is that Citiscape is not full of poor tenants, but rather leaseholders who have gained a precarious perch on what Britons insist upon calling the "property ladder."

Citiscape's freeholder is a financial vehicle: a trust set up by a multi-millionaire developer called Vincent Tchenguiz, who owns 300,000 freeholds in the UK and 10 Hilton hotels. The trust, an artificial person, insists that the humans who live in its building are going to have to foot the bill for removing the cladding, though they had no say in installing it. These humans will have to pay £31,300 or lose their homes. They're also going to be stuck with the bill for the fire warden patrols that are used to stopgap the cladding's removal, at £4,000/week.

Tchenguiz, 61, is believed to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds and last year bought a new 165-foot superyacht moored in the Mediterranean called Da Vinci. He is said to own 300,000 freeholds in the UK, including 10 Hilton hotels. His spokesman declined to comment.

The type of cladding on the Citiscape building was tested at the Building Research Establishment in August in the wake of the Grenfell disaster. It failed the test, which meant it did not adequately resist the spread of fire and breached building regulations guidance. The government told it to replace the cladding, but five months later it remains in place.

"We know that this work and the costs are unwelcome," FirstPort, Proxima's agent, told leaseholders. "However, as your property manager, our first priority has to be your safety."

It also warned that the longer they resist the charges and works are delayed "the more it will cost you in other charges such as fire wardens or scaffold costs".

Residents of tower with Grenfell-style cladding told they must foot £2m bill
[Robert Booth/The Guardian]

(via Naked Capitalism)