Hundreds of thousands of UK landlords trapped in their apartments due to a building safety crisis may be able to sell their homes soon after the government has struck a deal with major big banks to allow them to re-loan.
The move is the latest attempt by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrik to deal with a “market failure” triggered by the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people on Wednesday.
After the fire, fears about safety have left hundreds of thousands of homes unsold. In an effort to stop the market, Jenrick announced that buildings less than 18 meters tall do not require the so-called “EWS1” fire safety form and should be considered safe by fire risk assessors and mortgage lenders.
This effectively overturned a government directive from January last year, which said that “buildings of all heights” should be assessed for fire risk, according to government analysis.
Since the announcement of the directive, which will now be withdrawn, lenders have been reluctant to offer mortgages on apartments of any height that could be considered unsafe.
Ministers have been frantically trying to melt the market, and this month Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other top ten figures met with executives from the UK’s leading lenders to discuss how to reopen loans to damaged apartments and risk.
The UK’s largest lenders, HSBC, Lloyds and Barclays, said they welcome intervention and expect to scrap the EWS1 form requirement for blocks less than 18 metres. Lloyds said the move “will help unlock the housing market.”
Jenrick said the announcement is a “significant step forward for landlords of low- and mid-rise buildings facing difficulties in selling, anxiety over potential repair costs and concerns about the safety of their homes.”
“The landlord cannot be locked in a home that cannot be sold because of excessive industry caution,” he added.
Some landlords have had to pay tens of thousands of pounds for temporary safety measures, such as ‘wake up watchers’ who patrol dangerous blocks around the clock while waiting for the building’s safety checks.
Jenrick’s intervention would not satisfy building safety activists and landlords who insist that fire safety should be paramount, even if the risk of disaster is relatively low.
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, welcomed the announcement, but said “the safety of residents should remain a top priority.”
Additional report by Stephen Morris
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