The Grenfell tragedy led to the discovery that a large number of high-rise residential blocks of flats are cladded with unsafe material. Government advice initially said that cladding which represented a fire risk should be removed from all buildings over 18m in height. Unsurprisingly, mortgage lenders started to require assurances that external wall systems were safe as a condition of approving a mortgage loan.
The RICS, which is the surveyor's professional body, and the lenders produced a certificate in 2019 called an 'EWS1' certificate. The idea behind the certificate is that a competent fire expert would provide information about whether remedial works are likely to be required for a building. The form is only intended to be used for valuation purposes and is not a fire risk assessment. Once issued the EWS1 certificate gives the property a 'clean bill of health' and is valid for 5 years.
However, in practice there have been a number of problems with the use of EWS1 certificates including insufficient surveyors to carry out the inspections and a concern by the surveyor's indemnity insurers. In addition, it seems that lenders were requiring the certificates for buildings that were less than 18m in height and even buildings that did not have cladding.
Further new guidance has been issued to try to decrease the number of wall safety surveys being requested by lenders on blocks of flats. The RICS has issued guidance on valuation of properties in multi storey, multi occupancy residential buildings with cladding. The guidance is intended to help identify more accurately those building for which the EWS1 form is required. The hope is that this will result in only those buildings at serious risk of costly remediation arising from safety concerns needing a certificate. The lenders have given the new guidance a cautious welcome but have made it clear that it is up to each lender to decide on their own criteria, dependant on their own risk appetite.
This is a serious issue for those selling and buying affected homes. Instructing a qualified conveyancer early on a sale or purchase could save a lot of time, wasted costs and heartache for affected homeowners. It is a sad fact that some high-rise properties will remain unsalable until the issue is fully resolved and any remediation work done.
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