Elizabeth Winstanley is a leaseholder on a flat in South Manchester where the roof was badly damaged
Residents have shared their frustration as their apartment block has had a partially collapsed roof for nearly nine months. They also now face a £300,000 bill to fix it after being told they’re not insured.
Residents of 24 flats at the Orban apartments have lived with the damage covered by tarp and plastic since February 19, when storm Eunice ‘ripped off’ sections of the roof. The damage left two flats uninhabitable and exposed a number of others to water damage.
Elizabeth Winstantley bought her flat in 2018 and spent thousands renovating it. She was left homeless because her top floor flat was so badly damaged by the roof’s collapse. She is desperate to return home, but nearly nine months after the storm remains in temporary accommodation because work on permanent repairs to the roof has not begun.
Surveyor reports carried out in the months since the storm have revealed the roof was built with an ‘inherent defect’, which means leaseholders are unable to claim insurance and will have to pay for the repairs themselves. Quotes for the repairs are around £290,000.
Two-bed apartments at the Orban apartments have been marketed at £150,000 to buy, and £950 a month to rent. They are managed by Firstport property management services, who told the Manchester Evening News they are ‘very sorry’ for delays to the building repairs, and ‘are working to ensure that an appropriate permanent solution is put in place as soon as possible’.
However, for Elizabeth, the damage has been done. Her flat is uninhabitable, covered in mould, and still isolated from electricity – as it has been since the storm. She has no savings left after eight months of living a ‘nightmare’, and said she has been left ‘distraught’ by the situation.
Elizabeth’s flat is now covered in mould
“I’ve lost my whole apartment,” Elizabeth told the M.E.N. “I’m at a loss, I don’t know what to do. I can’t tell you how awful it is to not have a space of your own, and just feeling utterly powerless.
“This was my first home, everything I had went into it. But now, I have nothing left.”
Leaseholders have been left trying to understand how the roof’s ‘inherent defect’ could have gone unnoticed.
In an email to leaseholders Firstport said they had been ‘unable to access’ the roof for inspections – something they did not deny when the M.E.N contacted them for comment – but did not answer when asked when the last close-up inspection of the roof had taken place.
The M.E.N has seen documents where Thomasons, an independent construction consultancy brought in by the insurers to assess the claim, conclude: “The primary reason for the failure of the timber decking relates to the lack of ventilation within the roof structure’, which had been ‘ongoing for several years’ and was ‘a result of the poor design of the roof’.
The interior of Elizabeth’s neighbour’s flat, which has also been deemed uninhabitable
“Thomasons specifically advise that in their opinion, had the decking been in a sound condition prior to this incident, it would not have occurred,” the report reads.
Footage of a Zoom meeting between residents and surveyor Tony Mathews, who was brought in by Sedgwick’s loss adjustors, shows him remarking that walking on the roof felt like his feet were ‘sinking into weetabix’.
Firstport acknowledged that this was a ‘difficult time and situation’ for leaseholders, adding that the insurance claim was not rejected due to the damage inflicted by the storm, but because of a ‘a pre-existing inherent defect in the roof dating from the time of construction’.
The apartments were built in 2009 by Crosby Lendlease, now known as Lendlease. They told the M.E.N they had not had involvement in the property for over a decade. Aviva, the owners, declined to comment.
Elizabeth showed the M.E.N a number of pictures of her flat before the storm – which she said she had recently spent thousands of pounds renovating. Now, all that is left is an empty shell, covered in mould and contraptions erected by Firstport in an attempt to temporarily patch over the damage to the roof.
Elizabeth’s flat before the storm
Elizabeth says she is ‘angry’ that permanent repairs, which fall to Firstport to organise as property managers, have not started. Between February and September, she was forced to move between her mum and partner’s, sometimes even sleeping in her car, due to the state of her flat and Firstport’s failure to provide her with temporary accommodation – which she was eventually given in September. She told the M.E.N the impact of the situation has been ‘draining’, and she is ‘fearful’ for the future.
“It has affected every aspect of my life, including my personal relationships and mental health,” she said. “I have had to see the doctor frequently, I’ve had to take a serious amount of time off work which I have never done before.
“The anger and the frustration is constantly there. I go through phases of being distraught and upset and utterly lost.
“It’s probably the worst thing that could happen to you, apart from someone close to you dying. You constantly feel like a burden to people because you need somewhere to stay.”
While Elizabeth’s flat is among the worst affected, she isn’t the only leaseholder worried about the impact of extended water damage due to a number of failed temporary repairs enacted by Firstport throughout the eight months. Residents fear the water damage is spreading through the core of the building and starting to affect even more flats.
Martin Lewis warns of a ‘horrendous shock’ for mortgage holders
Tenants and leaseholders at five properties told us there was water damage and alleged that this could have been avoided if Firstport had acted to repair the roof quicker.
Landlord Alex, who bought a flat at Orban in 2011 but rents it out, said he believes the ‘whole building is in danger’ due to spreading water damage. It is understood that previous attempts at temporary repairs were unsuccessful, but that flats with water ingress are being checked at regular intervals.
“There is that much water going through the building,” he said. “It needs to be sorted, and urgently.
“It’s not our fault, but it is our problem.”
Giles Carbury, who owns and rents out the flat next to Elizabeth’s, said water damage began to show in his flat in early August. His tenant is currently paying £850 per month to live in a flat with spreading water ingress – and Giles said he feels Firstport are ‘totally out of their depth’.
“Everything has been a fight with them,” he told the M.E.N. “I’m just desperate for them to get the new roof.”
Firstport admitted temporary repairs had failed to halt water ingress
Firstport say that they are taking steps to install a waterproof polyethylene film solution to the roof, which should halt further water ingress . But Alex says he is ‘scared’ of the prospect of the permanent roof repairs continuing to be delayed.
“I am sick to the back teeth of Firstport not doing what they need to do. It’s a horrendous situation,” he told the M.E.N.
“It really is just absolutely sickening that you buy something in good faith, and this happens. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to survey the roof.”
Leaseholders at the flats have been asked to pay upwards of £3,000 each – a total of approximately £80,000 – to Firstport in an unexpected ‘service charge’ that the building managers say will go towards the cost of permanent roof repairs. It is understood that tenants will have to pay the money upfront before the management seeks recovery of the costs through legal action. Lendlease told the M.E.N they are not aware of any legal action.
“I have used every spare minute I have had looking into legal advice and researching this industry as much as possible, to try and understand the situation, possibly find ways to prevent the leaseholders footing this huge bill and attempting to safeguard the people that live there,” Elizabeth said.
No work on permanent roof repairs has started
“I have not only lost my home and some of my belongings but I have also found it so difficult to cope mentally.
“I spent every last penny I had trying to save my belongings. I have no savings left now.”
A spokesperson for Lendlease said: “We are sorry to hear of the issues facing leaseholders at Alexandra Road following storms in February.
“A member of the public contacted us earlier this year to request information regarding the original roof and design guarantees, which we’ve provided to them. But we’re not aware of any legal action regarding the building and have not had any other enquiries. We’re not the building owner and have had no involvement at Alexandra Road for well over a decade.”
A spokesperson for Firstport said: “We are very sorry for the delays at Orban House, and we understand residents’ frustrations.
“The permanent roof works for Orban House are complicated by the presence of an inherent defect and has required input from a number of parties. We are working to ensure that an appropriate permanent solution is put in place as soon as possible. We are in regular contact with residents and will continue to support them as and where we can until the roof issue is resolved.
“Leaseholders will not be required to pay for any of the temporary repairs that have been carried out to the existing roof nor the making good of water damage within affected flats.”