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Flat owners ‘held to ransom’ after service charge trebles to £7,000 a year



Hamid Elouahabi thought the figure was a typo at first (Picture: W8media)

People living in a London block of flats have been told they must pay an extra £5,000 a year for their service charge due to flammable render used in construction. 

They say it is bad enough to be living in a building deemed at risk of fire, but are now expected to pay thousands of pounds extra ‘for nothing’. 

Dad-of-three Hamid Elouahabi, who lives in the building in Earls Court operated by a housing association, thought the increased annual figure of £7,370.22 was a typo when he first read it. 

He told the monthly charge for his wife’s shared ownership flat has trebled from £205 to £614.29.

‘I know £500 a month is not a lot to some people, but to us it’s a huge amount,’ he said. ‘There are some people in the building where it could affect what they can eat on a weekly basis.

‘This is money I could be investing in my children – I look at it like it’s money being taken from them.’

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The primary school sports coach works in Ladbroke Grove, less than half a mile from Grenfell Tower where 72 people were killed in a deadly fire spread via flammable cladding on the outside of the high rise block. 

Hamid and his wife are now paying over £7,000 just for the service charge to live here (Picture: w8media)
They received notification their estimated annual service charge would be £7,370.22

‘It took me a while to get over Grenfell and not have it as the overriding shadow in my head as I go to work every single day,’ Hamid said.

‘We all saw innocent people that were killed, and the rest of us were traumatised by seeing this happen to our neighbors. We lost children that attended my school. 

‘So to have it all spun up again is not healthy for my soul or my mind.’

Service charges are on top of rent and mortgage payments, and cover costs relating to the apartment block in general such as maintenance.

Residents were given little notice of the massive increase, getting a letter informing them March 11 just a month before the rise came in automatically via direct debit.

It said that the annual insurance premium for the building had risen from around £10,000 to £310,000.

Notting Hill Genesis, the not-for-profit housing association operating the building, say they were also shocked by the increase in insurance premium sourced by the freeholder, but left with no choice.

They have absorbed the increase for the 44 social housing tenants in the block, but told 30 leaseholders who bought their homes via shared ownership that they are liable for the cost.  

The problems with the cladding were first raised last October, when residents of the four-storey block above Tesco were informed that a risk assessment deemed the 24-year-old building ‘high risk’. 

It is due to flammable render on top of the building frame, including some cases render on top of timber.

A ‘Waking Watch’ of 24 hour security guards to check for fires was put in place while temporary works including new signs, alarms and fire doors were installed.

Households were reassured: ‘Neither residents nor leaseholds have any responsibility for costs as part of the remediation works or the Waking Watch. This will sit with Notting Hill Genesis.’

A letter to residents telling them they would not be responsible for costs of remediation works
Residents have banded together to contest the massive increase (Picture: w8media)

The housing association intends to remove the flammable cladding and make the property safe, but cannot give a timeline for when this will take place so. 

It is the freeholder of the building, Seven Capital Mark Ltd, which is responsible for sourcing the insurance. This is then relayed to the head lease Notting Hill Genesis.

Residents said they were confused why the block was deemed so high risk, when all the blocks could be accessed by firefighters and there was more than one exit point, unlike 24-storey Grenfell Tower.

The issue of flats with flammable cladding is far bigger than this building alone, with millions of mortgage prisoners created after more stringent building regulations were brought in post-Grenfell.

Hamid also feels ‘trapped’ as he says it would be impossible to find a buyer not put off by the cladding and willing to stump up for the service charge, but even if he and his wife could, few lenders would be willing to provide a mortgage.

He initially considered simply refusing to pay the extra money, but was told anyone who did this would be in breach of contract and risk court action.

‘If I get a job opportunity abroad, we can’t sell up and we can’t rent out,’ he said. ‘We’re literally being held to ransom.’

He has met with his local MP Felicity Buchan about the issue, who then requested that the timescale for works to make the building safe ‘be investigated with a sense of extreme urgency’.

The housing association is understood to have appointed consultants ahead of works taking place, and will be going to tender for a firm who can remove the flammable cladding.

It comes after new regulations on building safety came into force on April 6.

The three-story block is above the Tesco superstore on West Cromwell Road in Earl’s Court (Picture: w8media)
Remedial work must be carried out on the render used outside (Picture: w8media)

The problems with cladding have affected other housing associations, which often operate blocks of flats where cladding was typically used.

in 2021, housing association Peabody, which had 2,000 tall buildings to check, told leaseholders they could be waiting 10 years, while a family living in an L&Q flat told how they put off having a second child due to being unable to move from their small property.

The government has provided funding under the Cladding Safety Scheme to support the actual removal of dangerous cladding on medium and high-rise buildings, intended to ‘protect innocent leaseholders from remediation costs’.

But in the meantime, flat owners face situations like Hamid’s.

A Notting Hill Genesis spokesperson said: ‘We appreciate that this is a significant increase in the service charge and understand the challenges it presents leaseholders. The news came as a shock to us and because we knew it would impact leaseholders, we wrote to them in advance of their service charge statements to explain the situation.

‘Notting Hill Genesis does not own the building, did not construct it and is not responsible for its insurance. We are a not-for-profit housing provider who acquired the head lease when the estate opened in 2000. Some of the inhabitants have acquired their properties under shared ownership and are responsible for paying the service charges. We administer the service charges, which includes insurance premiums passed on at cost and sourced by insurance brokers who search the market for the most cost-effective and appropriate policy.

‘We are providing what support we can, including payment plans and access to our partners who can provide a range of support services.

‘The building has to comply with fire safety regulations, which meant investigations had to be carried out into the external wall. These statutory investigations revealed issues that require remediation work and, by extension, have led to the material increase in insurance premiums. Interim measures have been instigated to mitigate these issues and ensure resident safety – initially a 24-hour patrol and now temporary fire alarms. These measures and the cladding remediation work will be fully funded and not recharged to leaseholders.’

A SevenCapital spokesperson said: ‘All parties would be better off if a lower insurance quote could be secured, but this was the best available.’

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