Following on from the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy in 2017, many flat owners have been impacted by the cladding crisis. Up to three million people in the UK are living in flats they cannot sell, while facing considerable and uncontrollable maintenance charges.
After the fire at Grenfell, safety inspections were conducted on high rise blocks. This revealed that not only was there dangerous cladding on many buildings but also other safety issues, including defective insulation, flammable balconies, and missing fire breaks. The buildings were deemed unsafe, and drastic measures were put in place to address this. In the most extreme cases a waking watch was employed. This is a person who continually patrols the building to ensure its safety from fire.
Having 24-hour surveillance comes at a considerable cost. This has been passed onto leaseholders, who have been faced with crippling maintenance charges at a time when it is not an option to sell the properties. Further, it is not possible to renew mortgages or secure funding against the properties. All among the landscape of there being the threat that hefty bills for the remedial works will be passed onto leaseholders.
The government has promised to protect residents from huge costs. Earlier this year, the construction industry agreed to pay out five billion to fund repairs. How and when this will be achieved is still a great uncertainty for many affected by this issue. Among that pool of people are separating couples who are looking to move on with their lives. This has resulted in many people living with their ex-partners under very difficult circumstances, without any idea of when they might be able to sell their property and rebuild their lives.
The case of S-v-T  highlights the impact of these complications on separating couples trying to achieve a financial separation. In this case, a settlement was reached. It was agreed that the family home would be transferred to the wife, in exchange for a lump sum for the husband and releasing him from the mortgage. The wife had secured an offer for the extra borrowing but this was subject to a surveyor’s report. When the surveyor attended he valued the property at zero. The wife was unable to secure any other lending to honour the full lump sum payable to the husband. The husband sought to enforce the outstanding lump sum.
In response, the wife applied to the court to set aside the order and renegotiate the lump sum. This was heard by a judge, who paid particular regard to the fact that the wife was aware of the cladding issues at the time of negotiating the settlement. She of course thought the issues would resolve themselves quickly and she would be able to secure the funding. The judge found that the wife had taken a gamble and unfortunately the worst-case scenario prevailed.
The court would not allow the wife to set aside the settlement. The judge recognised that the issues were not the fault of either party. He made an order for a sale of the family home, but this was to be delayed until the cladding problems had been remedied. This was to preserve the financial security of both parties. The judge ordered for the wife to remain in the family home but to meet all of the outgoings, including service charges and costs arising out of remedial works from the cladding issues. The wife was also directed to use her best efforts to buy out the husband’s interest in the meantime.
There are many people who are in similar circumstances waiting for works to complete on their properties before they can regain control over their lives.