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Enfield Leaseholders at Tower Point in limbo due to incompetence of Comer Homes Group

A group of 30 Leaseholders in Tower Point on Sydney Road Enfield has expressed increasing concern over negligence by the block’s management company – Comer Property Management – and it’s developer / freeholder – the former Comer Group – over EWS1 and building fire safety issues in the wake of the Grenfell disaster.

Repeated efforts to make formal contact with Comer Property Management and its affiliates on these issues have been ignored, and the block remains without EWS1 certification which means that mortgage lenders will not lend on flats in the block, impacting the long term value of all individual leaseholders’ properties and their ability to sell. It is believed that the 12-storey block on Sydney Rd Enfield does not have the most dangerous type of external cladding believed to have caused the fire at Grenfell (ACM type). However it appears that the block does have other fire safety defects which do not meet current regulations and which are causing national outcry as the (in some cases huge) costs of remedial works are being levied on leaseholders through service charges by unscrupulous developers.

The estate management company Comer Property Management Ltd. (owned and controlled by the Comer brothers who built the block and retain the freehold through their network of companies) wrote to Leaseholders in October to December 2020 stating that “we are in the process of obtaining EWS1 certification for all our high rise buildings” and that a fire assessor (International Fire Consultants or IFC) had been appointed to carry out a survey and a type 4 FRA (fire risk assessment). The two letters from CPM stated that “we have been informed that we need to obtain quotes for sprinklers and smoke vents and fire stopping for the property” and that “once we receive confirmation of the quotes to the description required, we will need to carry out a Section 20”. This raised alarm bells with leaseholders, especially since the main thrust of these letters (including a 3rd from the management group’s solicitors) was identifying relatively minor areas of potential FRA failures in which responsibility lay with leaseholders or residents – such as loose furniture on balconies or non-functional door closer chains – yet not providing any clear information on the outcomes of surveys or the larger issues for which CPM had stated their intention to obtain a Section 20 order through the courts system, forcing Leaseholders to pay additional service charge amounts for building improvements.

Since November 2020, the group of Leaseholders has written to CPM on 4 occasions, and two letters have been sent to the company’s registered offices by local ward councillor Terry Neville JP, asking for the results of the surveys and FRAs to be shared, and asking whether an application had been made to the Building Safety Fund (BSF) set up by the UK government to provide support and arbitration for post-Grenfell building safety issues. The last response in February 2021 from CPM stated vaguely that further surveys and engineering reports were needed but giving no timescale or details. Several letters, including both of those sent on Enfield Council headed paper by Cllr.Neville, have not been responded to. The question of an application to the BSF was asked repeatedly, and to the dismay of leaseholders no satisfactory or meaningful response was given to any of their questions. The application deadline of June 2021 for the BSF has since passed, leaving owners fearful for what the future may hold. Members of the leaseholders group have made further approaches to the known representatives of CPM Ltd via email, telephone and even in person at their offices in High Barnet – where they were not allowed past the front desk. One zoom meeting was set up and then cancelled on the day it was to take place without explanation by the building manager Ms Sinead Lisibach.

There have been long term concerns over the exceptionally high service charge for the block (in excess of £2500 pa. for each flat) and how it is administered by CPM, whether best value is being obtained in certain areas and with certain suppliers. There have also been ongoing issues due to the high number of flats owned by the freeholder which are let on short term leases, or in many cases via Air BnB, placing extra burden on security, concierge staff and general maintenance of the block – all of which are paid for via the service charge on leaseholders.

However the lack of EWS1 certification has prompted far greater suffering than the other background issues, as young families in the group of leaseholders are unable to sell or move out, elderly and vulnerable owners are in several instances in the same position. There is also concern over what building defects may need resolving and whether the building remains unsafe. And the group is increasingly concerned at the inscrutable or total lack of response from CPM Ltd to repeated requests for information and offers to work collaboratively to resolve the issues.

It is difficult not to view the actions of the Comer affiliated companies as whole as negligent in their duty of care towards the block’s residents and owners. And in the meantime, the developer is looking to expand their property portfolio by controversially building thousands of new residential units on green belt land at Vicarage Farm Enfield, with a consultation deadline of September 13th 2021.

The group of leaseholders is currently seeking legal advice in the hope of a swift and meaningful resolution to this troubling situation.

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