After the Grenfell Tower tragedy last year, local authorities across the UK have been rushing to identify and replace defective cladding on tower blocks and high rise buildings. In addition to the checks on existing buildings, some construction projects have been halted altogether while the cladding is tested to see if it needs to be replaced.
While the cladding in some cases was suspect, most companies relied on the others in the chain to make sure everything was safe. Developers relied on their contractors to provide high-quality and safe products and contractors trusted that if a material was acceptable under the building regulations then it was safe to use.
In fact, many building management companies intended to make their buildings more energy-efficient by installing cladding that they thought would be beneficial to the residents.
Not all cladding is dangerous, but after the Grenfell Tower disaster it’s clear that there is cladding on buildings that is hazardous to the people living or working there. Everyone can agree that where cladding is dangerous, it needs to be replaced as a priority.
But the problems start as soon as someone has to pay for it.
We are now seeing the financial impact across the country. In some circumstances, the cost of the replacement cladding is being passed onto the residents and the media is rightly shining a spotlight on this issue. Depending on the size of the property management company and the amounts of money available to them, passing on the costs could be the only way to get the cladding replaced or a cynical attempt to fleece the residents.
So if you’re faced with expenses relating to cladding testing issues, it’s important to know the legal position and your options.
In general, in almost all of these cases, the starting point is the contract. It’s unlikely that the contract will make any specific reference to cladding, but there may be other clauses which show who has to pay. For example, a building contract may well have a clause which establishes who has to cover the costs of any government policy change which results in delay.
In residential cases, the agreement between the management company and the residents may allow it to pass on the costs as a one-off expense or require it to find the funds elsewhere.
But in reality, this could be a question that can only be settled by the courts. In February 2018 the Property Tribunal made its first ruling on the first major case involving residents being charged for replacement cladding. The case is called E&J Ground Rent No 11 LLP v Various Leaseholders of Fresh Apartments.
Even though the Tribunal confirmed that the management company was allowed to pass on the costs of temporary fire safety measures to the residents, it’s not yet ruled on who is liable for replacing the cladding itself. We’ll be watching closely for the outcome.
But the Tribunal also noted that contracts will vary from building to building, so even if they rule that the residents are liable in that case, this won’t necessarily apply in every case.
Thankfully, if you are a resident and you find that you’re liable to pay for the cost of replacing dangerous cladding, there may still be ways that it can be replaced without you having to pay the full cost. Product warranties may be in place that require the supplier to return to site and replace it. In addition, if the product was known to be dangerous before it was installed, or it was recommended by somebody who should have known better, you could claim against them for the cost of replacement.
It’s really important to note that all of this will depend on the facts of each individual case. It may cost a fortune to replace dangerous cladding, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are stuck with that bill – or with the risk of leaving the cladding in place.
If you are concerned about costs resulting from dangerous cladding and want to know where you stand legally, call us now on 0117 926 4121 or make a Free Online Enquiry.