Barking Reach Resident's Association protest October 2019, photo Pete Mason

Barking Reach Resident’s Association protest October 2019, photo Pete Mason   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Pete Mason, chair of Barking Reach Residents Association and member of East London Socialist Party

The government stands accused of “systemic failure” to uphold building regulations and keep residents safe from fire.

Over 100 angry leaseholders told the Tory minister for housing that their homes have been rendered dangerously unsafe and of zero value, at an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) meeting about the flammable cladding scandal.

This cladding scandal has heightened the demand for the abolition of leasehold, so that residents can fully own their homes and make their own decisions. In blocks of flats this is called commonhold. The growth of leasehold ownership – half of all properties sold in the capital – means even more insecurity for residents.

The Grenfell inquiry discovered late last year that a single page of building regulations sets out that external walls on all residential properties must inhibit the spread of fire – meaning that they must not burn at all, under any circumstances. Yet, as guest speakers to the APPG showed, this simple piece of building code had been so obfuscated by false government guidelines that every single one of 650 types of cladding tested in 2017 – after Grenfell – on high rise buildings across England failed fire-proofing tests. A 100% failure rate!

Big landlords, like Adriatic Land, are getting fat from the leasehold scam. Leaseholders take on a huge mortgage burden, thinking they are buying outright a home to live in, but the property reverts to the landlord after a fixed period of time, making it increasingly difficult – and then impossible – for the leaseholder to sell.

The APPG heard how the big landlords are forcing leaseholders to pay for the removal of flammable cladding on their flats. A £20,000 cost per flat was quoted and a resident said she would be forced into bankruptcy.

Myself and another resident argued that the government should be held responsible and should pay for the removal of all flammable cladding. This received great applause, but no response from the ministry of housing representative, who was heckled that ‘nothing has been done’. Two and a half years after Grenfell, 75% of private high rise blocks have had nothing done, with another 10% having nothing more than some recommendations made.

Law Commission report

But a Law Commission report, produced and presented to the APPG meeting on 9 January, stressed that parliament must defend the “human rights” of the billionaire tax-haven landlords, on the grounds that the European Convention on Human Rights states that “no one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest”.

It is so very clearly in the public interest to confiscate these dangerous high rise tower blocks from landlords that the Law Commission representative came in for sharp ridicule. The Corbyn-led Labour Party had rightly demanded that councils be given the power to confiscate privately owned tower blocks where landlords failed to make them safe.

But the Law Commission is blind to public interest – except in exchange for large sums of money! It says: “Landlords’ human rights do not prevent leaseholders from buying their freeholds or extending their leases against the wishes of their landlord … But generally the further away from market value the compensation is, the more difficult it is likely to be to justify the interference.” So human rights can be traded according to market value!

After the cladding fire at Samuel Garside house on the Barking Riverside estate in east London, the Barking Reach Residents Association unanimously passed a motion at a residents’ meeting stating that the landlord had “forfeited its right to ownership of this property. It should pass as commonhold to the remaining residents.”

The APPG itself is a toothless talking shop. Residents’ organisations must come together in a national delegate meeting focusing on the cladding issue and agree a date for a major demonstration.

This above article is a longer version of the one printed in the Socialist.