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Apartment owners facing a hike in service charges to fund a building upgrade in the light of the Grenfell fire shouldn’t automatically pay up, a leading property lawyer has warned.

Danielle Clements of Gorvins Solicitors says panicked residents who have been told they owe thousands more on their service charge may not actually be obliged to foot the bill for the cost of replacement cladding and 24 hour fire wardens.

“This is a lot of money to find and it’s vital that people don’t pay unless it specifically says in their lease that they are obliged to do so,” advises Danielle, one of the country’s leading property dispute solicitors.

“Landlords may well significantly increase service charges in order to pay for this kind of work. And though it’s hoped a prudent landlord would look at his options before pursuing the leaseholders, some may not. Which is why it`s vital for anyone in this situation to check their lease agreement very carefully.”

Residents of privately owned high-rise housing in London and Manchester have already been told by their landlords they must pay to replace building cladding, which was found to be flammable in a review following the Grenfell Tower fire.

It’s believed that the blaze, which killed at least 80 people, spread so quickly because of the aluminium-based cladding material used on the 24-storey west London high-rise. This sparked concerns that hundreds more buildings, including privately owned apartment blocks, were at risk of fire in a similar fashion.

Landlords argue that they are entitled to increase service charges in the light of renovations to make their building safer.

However, says Danielle, even if there is specification in the lease for this, the costs have to be reasonable. It is also arguable whether this should also include the cost of employing fire wardens in the interim period until the cladding has been replaced.

“If there is a rise in service charge exceeding £250 for each individual leaseholder for the works to be carried out, a consultation procedure with all leaseholders in accordance with the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 should be followed. Leaseholders may also be able to challenge the Landlord at a First Tier (Property) Tribunal. And it’s helpful to speak to other owners in your block. There is a strength in numbers and the more there are of you the louder you can object. It also means you can share the burden of any legal costs.”

Landlords themselves, she says, should look at alternative options for sourcing cash for renovations in the light of Grenfell. These include funding it from buildings insurance, consideration of whether there is a claim against the original builders or for apartments built in the last 10 years whether it is covered under schemes such as the National House-Building Council.

She added: “The Grenfell disaster was a shocking tragedy. And safety is of paramount importance. But it is simply unfair to expect people who own properties in apartments with defective cladding to have to pay unless it is clear in their lease it says so. It’s also unfair because any on-going dispute between landlord and leaseholder could hold up a sale of the property. So it`s important that landlords play fair with residents of the building.”

Danielle was featured on BBC North West Tonight and BBC Radio Manchester discussing this issue. For more information or for further comment from Danielle, contact our Head of Marketing, Paul Longmire on 0161 930 5278 or paul.longmire@gorvins.com