A group of flat owners in a landmark building complex in central London have been hit with bills for almost £240,000 each for repairs and renovations.
The leaseholders of flats on the Centre Point estate in Westminster have described the anguish they face in trying to pay for the £7m renovation.
The owners of many of the 26 flats in Centre Point House, which is connected to the brutalist Centre Point tower, have claimed that they should not have to foot the bill for all the renovations and cannot now sell their flats because of the dispute.
Centre Point, a 34-storey tower constructed in the mid 1960s, stands on the corner of New Oxford Street and is one of the most recognisable buildings in the centre of London. Centre Point House, a smaller block, has 36 duplex flats on the third to ninth floors.
The proposed repair works will involve replacing the facade. The bill for the project is just over £7m, or about £238,000 per flat – a figure which could rise.
The property developer Almacantar, which bought the Centre Point complex in 2011 for £185m, is now in dispute with the leaseholders over the renovation project, which will require the residents to move out of their homes.
Hans Patel, who bought a flat in the building 20 years ago, says the bills that have been posted to flat owners have caused distress and anxiety. “It is a huge amount. We don’t have that in savings,” he says.
Another leaseholder, who asked not to be named, says: “My biggest fear is I’m terrified of losing my home because I don’t know where I’m going to find that money from.”
The Centre Point dispute is the latest instance of leaseholders being hit with huge bills for renovations to the buildings in which they live.
Last month, the Observer reported that the owners of former local authority flats had been handed bills of more than £60,000 for upgrade works.
Of the 36 flats in Centre Point House, 26 are owned by individuals and 10 by Almacantar. The leaseholders argue that there has not been enough transparency on how the money is being spent, and they have a report which says the work can be carried out for much less. They also claim that the project will act to improve the building – which falls outside their obligations as leaseholders.
Lawyers acting for some of the leaseholders say the works “appear excessive and disproportionately expensive” and would require residents to move out for at least 14 months while repairs are done. They claim that a failure by Almacantar to carry out works since it took over the building has increased the scope and cost of the repairs.
One resident says that they know they must pay some money to maintain the building, but that Almacantar has not supplied evidence “that the proposed works are proportional to the maintenance needs of the cladding”.
“Since Almacantar refuse to share their evidence base, and since Almacantar refuse us permission to physically inspect the cladding with our professional surveyor, we conclude that a significant proportion of the cladding works proposed are improvement, meaning it goes beyond repair,” they said.
The leaseholders are from varied financial backgrounds: while some have paid the bills under protest, others have said they are unable to. They say they cannot sell their flats owing to the dispute and face the prospect of losing their homes.
“None of us can sell this property,” says one resident. Another resident, who had their flat valued, says the figure came in at significantly less than expected because of the charge hanging over it.
One older leaseholder, who rents out their flat, says they do not have the time it may take to sort out the issue: “I can’t afford to wait seven or eight years until it’s all dealt with. It’s a worry, a very big worry.”
The issue is now before a first-tier tribunal, which deals with leasehold disputes, and an initial hearing took place last week.
Almacantar declined to answer questions about the cost of the project and how many residents had paid; allegations of excessive cost; the effects of the bills on the leaseholders; and alleged insufficient maintenance of the building, saying it was “not appropriate” as the matter was the subject of legal proceedings.
“Centre Point House is in need of repair, and we have consulted extensively with the residents for a number of years in relation to the much-needed works. We are acting responsibly and fairly and following the correct legal process to ensure that we discharge our legal obligations appropriately and cost effectively,” it said.
“This is why the matter has, in all parties’ interests, been referred to the first-tier tribunal, which can properly determine the scope of the repair works required and the appropriate contributions to be made by leaseholders (which includes Almacantar on a number of apartments acquired with the wider project in 2011) under the terms of their leases.”