Grenfell – issue for landowners one year on
The tragic events at the Grenfell Tower in London unfolded a year ago this month. The cladding to the exterior of the building was found to have been dangerously flammable and so contributed to the effects of the fire at the tower.
As a result, owners of high-rise blocks have had to review the types of cladding used, and where that cladding has been found to be similar to that used at Grenfell, steps have had to be taken swiftly to put in place remedial solutions.
Needless to say, the costs of such works have been/continue to be significant. It is an open question as to who should bear the costs of such necessary works. On the one hand, tenants may argue that this should be the landlord’s responsibility, as they are entitled to have safe buildings. On the other hand, landlords may point to the service charge provisions in leases and seek to argue that such costs are properly recoverable from tenants.
Clearly, the correct position in any individual case will depend on the precise facts and upon the precise provisions of the lease (e.g. how the premises is described, who is responsible for its upkeep, any clauses requiring compliance with statutes and bye-laws, together with the actual service charge provisions themselves).
That said, some cases have now been referred to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) for determination. The general theme of such cases is that the Tribunal is thus far being supportive of landowners recovering from tenants the costs of such remedial works. In one case the Tribunal held that the landlord’s obligations were greater than simply “to repair” the building and that words including “renewing or otherwise treating as necessary” and requiring “good and substantial repair order and condition” could require the landlord to replace the cladding. Similarly, the requirement of “rectifying or making good any inherent structural defects” was said to include the replacement of cladding. In these cases the service charge provisions were interpreted to permit landlords to recover the costs of complying with such obligations.
Accordingly, institutions experiencing such issues would be well advised to review their leases now to seek to establish whether or not it is likely that they would be able to recover the costs of works from their tenants.