Thousands of Sheffield flat owners hit by fire safety paperwork 'nightmare' that could cost up to £20k

Thousands of flat owners face being unable to sell because new fire safety paperwork has created a nightmare situation, an estate agent says.

By Rob Hollingworth
Monday, 5th July 2021, 1:19 pm
Updated Monday, 5th July 2021, 1:20 pm

Rules brought in after the Grenfell fire, which killed 72 people in 2017, mean surveyors are asking for evidence of an external wall survey called an EWS1 certificate. But many sellers find their building does not have one which can be a nightmare, according to Nicola Spencer, managing director of Sheffield firm Spencer.

She says deals have collapsed for apartments in Rockingham Street in the city centre and Weetwood Gardens in Ecclesall, where the EWS1 certificate was the issue. It can cost up to £20,000 to get one and delays of up to a year due to a lack of qualified assessors.

Nicola said: “It’s a disaster, a complete nightmare.

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"It is a massive problem for anybody in an apartment with cladding. Sellers are being forced into negative equity because they have to sell below the value of their property until an EWS1 is complete and you’ve no idea how much that will cost or how long it will take.”

The Grenfell fire is believed to have been started by a faulty fridge-freezer when the blaze spread in the cladding of the building. Nicola says zinc, aluminium and timber render are now subject to the same scrutiny as the Grenfell cladding.

Nicola added: "Anything considered not standard brick construction will be assessed.

"The number of qualified people available to carry out the assessments is an issue and after that’s done, a fire engineer must assess each type of cladding. Mortgage lenders are insisting on this.

"We had apartments in Rockingham Street where the buyer had to pull out because there was no certificate. They had been waiting 12 months. The same in Wheatwood Gardens, where it was not clear how much it would cost to get the certificate.

" It was a disaster for the people who had got to the point of exchange and then had to pull out.”

Nicola says an apartment worth £110,000 could have 20 percent of its value wiped off if there is no certificate. For one worth £300,000, 10 percent could go.

"People have waited a year for a certificate but that’s no good when you have to sell due to circumstances created by Covid, you can take a monumental hit,” says Nicola.

"The focus is wrong, common sense has been taken away. When a property has been signed off by building regulations and bought in good faith, it is not fair that the leaseholder should pay.

"The Government and the banks have to sort this out. Will the Government cover the cost of the form, can the banks be told they can’t insist on the form for a building under 18 metres tall?

"If legislation changes, it has to say how the Government will offer support and be clear what the banks can insist on.”

The EWS1 certificate was introduced in December 2019 to give lenders confidence to lend on apartments built before changes to the building regulations in 2018.

It is not a legal requirement, but was developed by lenders with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors to make the valuation process easier.