Owners of un-remediated buildings that have outstanding safety works should take note of the enforcement action that the Government has committed to taking, using new powers in the Building Safety Act 2022, regarding Vista House in Stevenage.
On 9 October 2022, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) issued a press release regarding building safety issues at Vista House. Vista House is owned by Grey GR Limited Partnership and is a fifteen-storey tower block in Stevenage where, according to the Government, over 100 residents have encountered delays of over two years waiting for work to start to remediate fire safety defects.
The freeholders of Vista House are the first building owners to have legal action brought against them by the Government’s new Recovery Strategy Unit, which has been set up to engage with other enforcement authorities and pursue parties who “repeatedly refuse to fix” unsafe or inadequate buildings.
DLUHC is taking enforcement action despite the fact that the freeholders have registered the building and applied for funding from the Building Safety Fund, though the funding agreement has not yet been signed to release funding.
Simon Clarke, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, said this about the Government’s actions:
“This legal action should act as a warning to the rest of industry’s outliers – big and small. Step up, follow your peers and make safe the buildings you own or legal action will be taken against you.”
The Building Safety Act 2022 introduced a raft of new powers, including the ability for enforcement action to be taken to ensure that safety defects are remediated.
Under section 123 of the Act and the subsequent Regulations, power is given to a number of named entities (including the Secretary of State, the regulator, a local authority, a fire authority or a person with a legal or equitable interest in a building) to apply to the First-tier Tribunal for a 'remediation order'. The purpose of such an order is to require the responsible landlord (or other party to the lease, such as a management company) to remedy specified defects in a building within a specified time. DLUHC has given notice to the Vista House owners that they have 21 days to commit to undertaking the necessary works, failing which an application will be made.
DLUHC has also indicated that it is considering making an application for a 'remediation contribution order' under section 124 of the Act. This entitles the same categories of persons to apply to the First-tier Tribunal for an order requiring particular companies or partnerships (e.g. former landlords, superior landlords, developers or parties associated with them) to make payments for the purposes of funding the costs of remediating building safety defects in a building. The Tribunal can make a remediation contribution order where it is just and equitable to do so.
Overall, therefore, the Government’s action demonstrates that in appropriate circumstances it will take action to require building safety defects to be remediated where it perceives that works are not being progressed satisfactorily. It also shows that, in parallel, the Government will be willing to pursue other parties to require them to contribute towards the costs of the works if it is felt that is necessary to enable the works to be funded and/or for financial responsibility for the works to be apportioned appropriately. It remains to be seen whether and to what extent other enforcement authorities follow the Government’s lead in utilising these new powers.
Landlords and owners of tall buildings with safety defects will know that the remediation of safety defects is not always a quick or straightforward task, and nor is the process of securing funding from the Government’s Building Safety Fund. There are a multitude of risks to be managed – with resident safety being the most significant of those risks. The possibility of third party intervention by those entitled to bring enforcement action is clearly now an additional risk that has to be factored in at all stages, and the Government’s decision to publicise the action it is taken at Vista House is no doubt intended to focus the minds of all those involved with tall buildings with defects that have yet to be adequately remediated.