Tower block residents "prisoners" as safety defects render flats "worthless"

24 August 2020, 11:57 | Updated: 25 August 2020, 11:11

Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

Residents in an unsafe North London tower block say they feel like “prisoners in their own homes” after being told their flats are effectively worthless, and it could be up to 42 months before can they sell up and leave.

They’ve told LBC they feel trapped in their own homes after a series of surveys on the building in Zenith Close in Colindale found fire-safety defects in the external walls.

It comes after the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors last year brought in something called an ESW1 certificate - a survey of external walls - for buildings that are over 18m high with cladding.

It’s a way of establishing the blocks’ fire risk after Grenfell, and now lenders want proof first that a building is compliant, before offering any mortgages.

The problem for the residents in Zenith Close is that the building effectively failed.

It got a “B2” rating, which means there are combustible materials in the walls, and "an adequate standard of safety is not achieved."

Zenith House, where flats are now "worthless"
Zenith House, where flats are now "worthless". Picture: LBC

Experts say parts of the block has been fitted with combustable insulation, and there are missing cavity barriers around the windows.

These have to be installed in high rises to stop the spread of a fire.

In a letter, Notting Hill Genesis told residents that the building doesn’t match the drawings they were provided with from the builder Hill, with whom they had a “design and build” contract.

So now the two are now locked in negotiations over who should pay - but all this could take up to 42 months for the problem to be fixed, before the building can be made safe again.

In the meantime, the residents’ flats have been valued at nil; they can’t sell up, or move out, and many feel trapped by a situation they never saw coming.

“We’re prisoners in our own homes” one resident told me.

They also risk having the thousands of pounds a year fees for the waking watch, and a new fire alarm system passed on to them.

A Notting Hill Genesis spokesperson said: “Our appointed fire experts have carried our extensive surveys of 11, 13 and 15 Zenith Close and identified combustible insulation within cavity walls and missing cavity barriers. While these are not deemed to be high risk, we are following the advice of our fire consultants and best practice to fulfil our role as a responsible landlord. This has included using a 24-hour waking watch and upgrading the fire alarm system.

“We are working with the original developers to agree a programme of works, but from our experience these discussions can take anything from six to 18 months to find a settlement. At this stage we are unable to specific about when we expect the work to be completed.

“We are sympathetic to the issues being faced by leaseholders who are unable to sell their home and supporting them as much as we can, including granting permission to sub-let. This is a national issue affecting all building owners whether public or private and we will continue to help our residents deal with the effects of this latest government guidance.''

A spokesperson from the Hill Group, told LBC: "Zenith Close was completed in April 2014 and was approved by Building Control at the time.

"We appreciate this is a difficult situation for the leaseholders involved and we are working hard to ensure a swift resolution and programme of remediation works, with the building’s owner Notting Hill Genesis."