Life on hold.
Life on hold.
Despite being just six years old, 15 Zenith Close was built with significant defects by its developer Hill Group. Information from freeholder and housing association Notting Hill Genesis has meanwhile been incorrect, confusing and inconsistent, so we have set out the real situation below.
We are potentially facing huge personal costs for remediating the building. The interim measures to keep us safe are already unaffordable, and that's before actually fixing the building:
£1,162 per flat
£5,711 per flat per year (£476 per flat per month)
There are further costs that will rise over the next year which NHG have not yet mentioned, such as the insurance cost for the building. These costs will continue until the building is fixed, which NHG has warned us could take around four years. Whilst costs have not yet been passed on to us, NHG have reserved their right to charge us these costs if these can't be claimed elsewhere (namely from the developer). The developer of the building (Hill Group) is currently attempting every avenue to wriggle out of paying
If the cost of fixing the building is passed on to residents, this could easily cost us all a further £25,000 to £70,000 per flat.
People in larger flats will of course pay even more as we have simply taken the average cost per flat based on the 72 flats in the block to demonstrate the numbers.
Disclaimer: Please note, we are not lawyers and you should not rely on this without consulting your own legal advice. This is, however, our best understanding of the current situation until we have raised enough money to instruct our own lawyers to verify this.
15 Zenith Close should have passed its EWS1 survey with flying colours, but when the survey was carried out, significant safety problems were found.
Hill Group, the developer of the building, constructed the tower without cavity barriers in place around its windows and other openings. It is our understanding from our freeholder that Hill also didn’t construct the building in line with the original approved plans.
The cladding system that was installed at 15 Zenith is usually considered perfectly safe. However, the omission of cavity barriers by Hill means that fire can easily spread throughout the cladding, putting residents' lives at risk.
We have been told by NHG that Hill Group also built the cladding in a different way and with different parts to the plans that were submitted. This was not in line with the manufacturer’s certified design, and has therefore not been proven to be effective against fire.
After receiving press coverage by LBC, Hill Group responded as follows:
Zenith Close was completed in April 2014 and was approved by Building Control at the time.
To debunk Hill's response, the approval of Building Control was based on plans which we understand from Notting Hill Genesis that Hill did not actually follow.
We have been told by Notting Hill Genesis that this is a "clear-cut case of developer fault," on a building that should be well within its 12-year warranty. However, Hill Group is arguing using a raft of technicalities to avoid the cost of rectifying the building and to push these costs onto the residents, in a building that's just 6 years old.
The longer these arguments go on for:
The longer the building remains unsafe,
The longer residents remain trapped,
The longer life-ruining costs are incurred for interim measures such as the waking watch.
While these arguments continue there is a clear disregard for residents' safety, lives, and for simply doing the right thing.
Notting Hill Genesis have previously stated that they will only pass on these costs as a last resort if they cannot be charged back to the developer or covered by insurance. They have, however, laid the groundwork to charge residents by serving Section 20 notices and are clearly anticipating there is a realistic chance of passing on the costs to leaseholders.
Notting Hill Genesis has told us that negotiations with the developer are expected to take at least 12 to 18 months, especially given how difficult the developer, Hill Group, is being. The total time until the building is rectified is anticipated to take around 42 months (three and a half years).
The short answer is no. Until the building is fixed, banks will not provide new mortgages on it for any future buyers. The EWS form that Notting Hill Genesis has sent residents only confirms that the building has failed its inspection. By NHG’s own admission, the current status of the building will not be satisfactory for any lenders to lend against.
Until the building is rectified, we will all be mortgage prisoners. We are also potentially liable for life-changing bills to cover making our homes safe, unless talks with Hill Group are eventually successful.
The government fund for buildings with non-aluminium composite (ACM) cladding, such as Zenith, is anticipated to only cover buildings where rectification work is scheduled to begin by 31st March 2021. It is unlikely that Zenith will fall into this category; therefore, we are unlikely to benefit from such funds.
NHBC did not sign off on the work at Zenith, which means that the insurance policy will only cover damage caused by defects, rather than rectifying those defects themselves. If there hasn’t yet been any damage to the residents or building (eg. building burns down), the insurance policy will not cover any of the costs. This is clearly a useless and morally dubious policy when it comes to the fire safety of a building like Zenith but, as it stands, it is unlikely that we will benefit from the insurance policy.
Notting Hill Genesis have put out generic blanket statements to residents copied and pasted from other buildings with which they are dealing. We were alerted to these re-used statements because NHG left the names of their other developments including ‘Ingot Tower’ and ‘Silverwharf’ on the communications sent out.
For all of the copied and pasted PR quotes from NHG regarding pursuing every other avenue (government funds, insurance, etc.) to reclaim costs, much of this doesn’t apply to Zenith, for the reasons we have set out above. The main realistic avenue to pursue is the developer, Hill Group. If this fails, residents could face financial ruin.
Despite the new fire alarm system (if it is ever installed) being more than adequate to take over the waking watch’s job, NHG intend to continue using the waking watch even once this installation is complete - this is on a building they themselves have publicly commented is “not deemed to be high risk.”
The key thing to remember here, is that NHG are spending residents' money under the service charge, without cost to themselves, in order to alleviate themselves of any potential liability. They are therefore more than happy to continue using a waking watch for the next 4 years as a fail safe, even though once the fire alarm is installed this will clearly no longer be needed and they wouldn’t do this if it were their own money.
We are trying to get a further meeting set up with Notting Hill Genesis to discuss the latest progress for the development, but have so far not heard back.
Residents need representation from our own professional experts to fight being passed any costs and to push for a quick resolution. Without this, we are sitting ducks, waiting to be passed the cost and relying on NHG to competently fight hard on our behalf. As we have proven above, this is currently not going well.
To be able to get experts involved and fight our case, we need you to contribute what you can towards the 15 Zenith Fund. We need to raise approximately £20,000 to get a detailed legal opinion on our position and begin action against Hill Group and / or Notting Hill Genesis. If 50 out of the 72 flats donated, this would be £400 per flat. We appreciate this sounds steep, but it will pay off in the long run and is a lot less than the waking watch costs (which are more than this every month) and eventual huge costs of remediating the building. Hill Group is currently doing everything it can to wriggle out of fixing the building under warranty; your donations are a necessary investment to protect our futures.
Please give as generously as you can, we really need most people who can do so to donate as the block cannot represent itself unless a majority of residents are involved.
The Residents Association will fight for you and keep you updated, but we need your help to do so – the link to our GoFundMe is below: