A group of leaseholders and shared owners in Brighton have rejected a ‘victim narrative’ and determined they will simply refuse to pay for cladding and other remediation work to their building.
City Point Safety Breaches
The City Point scheme in Brighton was built by Barrett Homes and incorporates 240 apartments. It was constructed just 20 years ago, and won multiple awards, including the Design Council’s 2008 ‘Building for Life’ trophy.
In March 2021, however, residents were informed that building checks carried out the year before had exposed a number of fire safety breaches. The failings included the presence of combustible insulation, manufactured by Kingspan, one of the firms implicated in the Grenfell fire.
Although the housing management company First Port is attempting to cover remediation costs through the government’s Building Safety Fund (BSF), they have threatened residents with legal action to force them into paying if the BSF application is rejected.
Estimates for the remediation work run to just under £5 million.
Not Taking It
Unwilling to accept a role as passive recipients of crippling bills and legal procedures, occupants of City Point formed a Residents’ Association with the aim of fighting the action.
“It is an absolute outrage that, following Grenfell, we leaseholders, shared owners (and renters ultimately) in what are meant to affordable homes, should be the ones punished for seemingly corrupt building practises.”
Michael, City Point Resident
Brighton and Hove MP Caroline Lucas raised the scandal in Parliament, referring to more than 1,000 people in her constituency who live in dangerous homes. She pointed out that a complex web of construction, maintenance, and management companies allows those responsible for the building faults to pass the buck, while innocent residents remain caught in the middle.
City Point residents are right to reject a narrative of despair. Headlines predicting the financial destitution of tenants and residents across Britain faced with big service charge bills for building safety works, or indeed other services, assume that the residents will juts pay up. This is not the only option.
As Michael, a City Point resident explains:
“we are not just sitting here taking it … we have no intention of paying for cladding remediation … we are organised, and fighting back, against all of it.”City Point Resident
A rising number of people are choosing to withhold rent and/or service charge payments in protest at landlord behaviour, and combine this with other campaign activities.
Nonetheless, even if residents refuse to shoulder the financial costs, two big problems remain. All those living by unsafe buildings must live with the constant fear of fire or the damage to health that other building defects cause, including mould and damp.
Those who own their homes either as leaseholders or through shared ownership schemes have the added burden of knowing that selling their home is impossible until the problems are fixed.
SHAC’s Rent & Service Charge Strike Group
In response to the rising numbers of tenants and residents refusing to pay extortionate rents and service charges, SHAC launched a Rent & Service Charge Strike Group in 2021. Their online meetings are open to anyone (regardless of landlord) who is withholding payment, either wholly or partially, or who aims to do so.
The reasons for withholding cited by members vary, but commonly include cladding, disrepairs, or a lack of response to anti-social behaviour in the neighbourhood.
The group was set up to coordinate protest action across landlords, and provide solidarity and peer support. We also have resources such as template letters for strikers to use.
The group’s first meeting of 2022 will take place at 6pm on Tuesday 15th February. The meeting will help focus a campaign to raise awareness of the action. To receive an invitation, please register here.
23 January 2022
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.