First-time buyer has to pay £200,000 to fix cladding – the same cost as her flat

Sophie Bichener bought a flat worth £230,000 in 2017 and now faces a bill for £200,000 to fix flammable cladding, as well as paying an extra £1,500 a month in extra charges

Sophie Bichener has now been forced to keep a fire extinguisher by her bed at night

A woman caught up in the cladding scandal has been hit with a bill for more than £200,000 for fire safety repairs – almost the same as the value of her flat.

Tens of thousands of leaseholders face huge bills from their freeholders to repair fire safety defects uncovered after the 2017 Grenfell Tower inferno in West London, which killed 72.

Flat owner Sophie Bichener, 29, was told in August that she would have to pay more than £208,000 for repairs to her property.

But she only paid £230,000 for the flat itself, located in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

Her bill is one part of the total £14.9million cost of fixing cladding on the entire 73-flat building.

The building has flammable cladding – but the owners want the leaseholders to pay to fix it


©Stan Kujawa)

The bumper cost is one of the most expensive to emerge from the cladding crisis.

Bichener, who is a first-time buyer, told i newspaper she could go bankrupt over the huge bill.

In July she was asked to pay £104,000 for six months’ building work, or around £17,000 a month.

“There’s no way I could pay that amount of money,” she told the i.

“We knew were going to have to pay a huge sum to fix the building but we didn’t expect it to be almost the value of what we all paid to buy the flat in the first place.

“The freeholder owns the building and the external walls, yet leaseholders are expected to fix them if anything goes wrong.”

Residents of the building Bichener lives in, Vista Tower, have already paid £306,240 for a waking watch – people to look out for any fires.

The inhabitants have also shelled out £100,000 for a new fire alarm, £20,000 for surveys and £10,000 for legal advice.

The cladding issue was put into the spotlight after the Grenfell tragedy

Bichener pays an extra £1,500 a month for these costs, in addition to her mortgage.

But the overall bill for the building has been reduced slightly, as Vista Tower has been given £327,195 in Government support.

It could also get a share of the £1billion Building Safety Fund set up by the Government to help with cladding repair costs for buildings more than 18 metres high.

“It’s an unaffordable cost for something I could never have known about, and something I didn’t play any part in creating,” Bichener said.

There are two main ways of owning a property in England and Wales – leasehold and freehold.

A freeholder owns the ground a property sits on outright, whereas a leaseholder rents it for a set time from a freeholder.

Once the lease is up, the freeholder gets the house back.

The leaseholders in Vista Tower want the cost to be passed on to the developers of the building and the freeholders.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the ultimate owners of buildings with cladding issues should make them safe with no costs to leaseholders.

But no law has been passed, so there is nothing stopping freeholders sending huge repair bills.

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