Cladding repair bill is same as £230k price of this Hertfordshire flat
When homeowner Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, in 2017 for £230,000, she had no idea about the potentially crippling costs that lay ahead.
She moved into the flat just before the fire at Grenfell Tower, in West London, which caused 72 deaths.
Like so many other purchasers, Sophie bought moved into her flat believing that it was safe because it complied with building regulations.
However, her flat has since deemed to be unsafe in the wake of the Grenfell fire.
Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, concerns about cladding have become a national issue
Like so many other flat owners affected by fire safety issues, she has been left unable to sell her property, as mortgage lenders will no longer offer loans without fresh proof of safety.
Her block of flats has been deemed unsafe and fire safety repairs need to be carried out.
But the bill for the repairs are eye-watering, almost matching what she originally paid for the flat.
This summer she was quoted £202,077 to fix just her flat, which is not far from the £230,000 that she originally paid for her home.
She understands that some of the £14million-plus costs to fix her block will be met from the Building Safety Fund, but it is not yet known how much financial assistance – if any – she will get.
This leaves her facing the unknown, a situation many flat owners find themselves in through no fault of their own.
She says it is likely that she will have to relocate during the works for at least a month.
Sophie Bichener, 29, bought her flat in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in 2017 for £230,000, but has since been quoted £202,077 to fix her flat, which has deemed to be unsafe
Her block is home to 73 flats spread across 14 storeys. It is above 18 metres and had problems with combustible cladding and missing fire breaks.
It is unknown when the fire safety work is expected to begin as the Government has yet to confirm whether it will provide funding for her block.
But once the work does start, it is suggested that it could take 52 weeks, meaning Sophie would be effectively living on what would look like a building site for a year.
The block has already paid for six months of a waking watch at a cost of £600 a month per flat. Those payments stopped following the installation of new fire alarms.
Sophie told MailOnline Property: ‘We have a supportive network of leaseholders and so you can take time out from dealing with it. However, being in lockdown and in the flat twenty-four seven means I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure this out.
‘Knowing that when you go to work that money has already been spent has been disheartening.
‘We just have to do what we can. It is easier for me to talk about it now, but there are people I know who are suicidal. While the Government is playing ‘who is to pay’, leaseholders are struggling to survive.’
‘We have had to put our life on hold. I can’t spend any money as I know I shall have a bill at the end of all of this, although I don’t know how much that will be.
‘I’d like to get married and have children, but simply cannot afford to contemplate that at the moment.’
Campaigners have called ministers of ignoring cladding victims’ screams for help.
Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, said: ‘Ministers have betrayed leaseholders like Sophie. Ignoring their screams for help, dismissing their dreams and refusing to listen.
‘Leaseholders need practical support, not more weasel words and I will continue to fight for people like Sophie.
‘Leaseholders are not to blame, but they are facing devastating mental health and financial costs as they are left to pay more in remediating their flats, than they are now worth. It is a tragic market failure and we must step in as a government to support them.’
It follows an announcement by Robert Jenrick that neither leaseholders nor taxpayers should pay for dangerous cladding to be removed.
He said that the law will be changed retrospectively to give homeowners 15 years to take action against their developers for shoddy workmanship.
A MHCLG spokesman responded, saying: “Building owners should make buildings safe without passing on costs to leaseholders – and we will introduce a new legal requirement for owners of high-rise buildings to prove they have tried all routes to cover the cost of fixing their buildings.
“We are processing applications to the Building Safety Fund as quickly as possible – and we have been clear that we will fund the removal of dangerous cladding from high rise building where remediation is necessary.
“Our approach strikes the right balance in our continuing commitment to protecting leaseholders and being fair to taxpayers – while reassuring lenders that where cladding remediation is needed, costs will not be a barrier or mean that mortgage payments become unmanageable.”