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Experience: my dream flat became a nightmare

Experience: my dream flat became a nightmare

1/22/2021 1:07:00 PM

Experience: my dream flat became a nightmare

Six months after moving in, I got a letter telling me my roof was covered in dangerous cladding

Last modified on Fri 22 Jan 2021 14.00 GMTThe day I got the keys to my one-bedroom flat in central Leeds in April 2019 was the proudest moment of my life. I’d spent four years saving a £10,000 deposit from my salary as a marketing and PR executive. I had just become single, and I thought my life would be about going out in Leeds, meeting people and enjoying being in my 20s. Independence.

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Becoming a homeowner, at 28, was a huge deal for me and my family. My dad is a retired electrician and my mum is an admin assistant. There’s no family wealth behind me – I saved up on my own, and bought my flat for £102,000 through an affordable housing scheme, designed to help people on low incomes. Under the terms of my agreement, I wasn’t allowed to rent the flat out, or sell it to a cash buyer, but that didn’t seem like a problem at the time.

Six months after moving in, I received a letter from West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue telling me that my roof was covered in dangerous cladding, similar to that used onGrenfell Tower. Further inspection threw up problems with the external brickwork, combustible insulation, timber balconies and possible missing firebreaks.

When I got the letter, I had just bought a new freezer and sofa. I’d thought I’d be in the city centre at weekends, drinking cocktails, but instead I was in my flat, crying, trying to understand fire surveys. Because the building was unsafe, its management hired a waking watch – professionals who stay up all night patrolling a building, checking it’s not on fire. The residents had to pay for it, even though it wasn’t our fault. We had bought the flats in good faith, but it seemed as if the building regulations were being changed retrospectively.

The cost of the waking watch was £300 a month. That was the same as my mortgage payments, and I didn’t have the money to pay for it. The affordable housing scheme meant that I wasn’t allowed to rent out my flat and move back home with my parents. I was only allowed to sell to another buyer on the same scheme – and who on a low income would buy a flat with sky-high additional charges? I was trapped. My mental health plummeted.

In addition to that charge, I was told to expect a bill to replace the cladding on the roof: although management were able to apply to a government fund established to remove dangerous cladding, the fund isn’t big enough to pay for all the repairs. I also had to pay £1,400 for a new fire alarm system and further bills for the other fire issues. I was responsible for paying to fix my building – not the construction company that built it, or the government who signed off the building regulations at the time, even though it was unsafe.

Read more: Guardian Weekend »

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