Despite concerns surrounding cladding on apartment buildings, demand still exists for homes in affected developments, which has been bolstered by new government guidelines recently being announced. However, a leading residential conveyancing lawyer says buyers and sellers must be vigilant, and check the building has the right paperwork is in place from the outset.
LCF Residential is the conveyancing arm of leading Yorkshire law firm, LCF Law. The company has dealt with a wide range of property sales and purchases in developments with cladding throughout Leeds and beyond in recent years and now regularly advises both clients and estate agents on the issue.
Following the deaths of 72 people in a devastating fire at Grenfell Tower, the external wall system (EWS) process was introduced to confirm that adequate checks have been carried out on cladding, insulation and fire-break systems in residential buildings. Once a property has been checked, it is granted an EWS1 form.
Rather than being a safety certificate, the EWS1 is for valuers and mortgage lenders to determine whether remediation costs will affect the value of the property. The forms were initially required for tall apartment buildings, measuring more than 18 metres in height, but the requirements were then extended to all buildings with any form of cladding.
However, earlier this month the government introduced new guidance to simplify the process. This means for buildings with seven storeys or more, only those that have cladding or vertically stacked balconies containing combustible material require an EWS1.
Buildings with five or six storeys require an EWS1 form if there is a significant amount of cladding on the building, meaning a quarter of the whole wall is covered by combustible material. Buildings with certain types of combustible cladding also require the form. In addition, the form is required for buildings where balconies stack vertically above each other and are made of combustible materials.
Buildings that have four storeys or less do not require an EWS1 regardless of whether they have balconies and cladding, unless the cladding is made from aluminium composite material (ACM), metal composite material (MCM) or high-pressure laminate (HPL). The new guidance will be introduced on 5th April and the government estimates it will mean 500,000 fewer leaseholders need an EWS1 form.
Liz Webster, a solicitor and director at LCF Residential (pictured) said: “Cladding is a major issue and can be a worry for both existing leaseholders and anyone thinking about buying an apartment in an affected building. Cladding and balconies made from certain materials are also a concern for mortgage lenders and the vast majority won’t lend money against a home that doesn’t have all the correct paperwork in place.
“However, although EWS1 forms are now widely accepted by mortgage lenders, it is vital that the second part of the form, or Section B, has been completed. Section A of the EWS1 can be signed off by a RICS surveyor, but Section B must be completed by a fire safety expert.
“A common problem occurs when management companies pay to have an EWS1 prepared only to find that both sections have been validated a RICS surveyor, with no input from a fire safety expert. These are predominantly dismissed by lenders and we’ve seen numerous examples of this happening in Leeds city centre.”
Liz added: “The new government guidelines for EWS1 forms are welcome news and will help to create a degree of certainty whilst also unlocking the market, although ultimately mortgage lenders have the final say on which buildings they will lend against.
“Anyone considering buying or selling an apartment in a development that requires an EWS1 should immediately check whether the form is in place and that Section B has been signed by a fire safety expert. In most cases the development’s freeholder or management company is responsible for commissioning the EWS1. It is one of the first things mortgage lenders ask for and without it, it’s unlikely that a bank or building society will lend against the property. Crucially it also offers a valuable insight into how safe the apartment is.”
Finally, Liz said: “Another key factor is whether a building with unsafe cladding can benefit from the government’s Building Safety Fund, which has been set up to pay for the removal of non-aluminium composite material cladding from buildings more than 18 metres high. Solicitors can make these enquiries on behalf of clients and we’re already seeing successful claims being made for a number of popular developments in Leeds city centre, which will give additional peace of mind to residents, as well as buyers and sellers.”