Revealed: Residents made homeless by fire face months of misery after ‘problems since block opened’
- Credit: Siorna Ashby
Tenants and homeowners from a West Hampstead block damaged by fire last week have been told they won’t be back in their flats this side of Christmas.
Now they have spoken of their lack of faith in the building’s owner to get the repairs done, saying communication and service have been poor since the day they moved in.
For starters, Ballymore, which manages the Orwell Building off West Hampstead Square, will have to get an agreement with Network Rail to close the Underground line because it will need to put a crane on the rails to replace the destroyed balconies. The firm could not tell the Ham&High this week whether the agreement had yet been struck.
Andrew Feldman lost between £10,000 and £20,000 of possessions when his fourth-floor flat was damaged by the fire on Tuesday last week.
His Orwell Building flat is directly above where the blaze started, and he has seen his own balcony reduced to a shell and his possessions ruined by smoke.
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The 30-year-old moved into the block when it opened, after a two-year delay, in April 2017.
“Nothing gives me faith with Ballymore,” he said. “There has been a build-up of incidents since day one.
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“Something like this was always going to happen.”
Andrew was on a cruise with his family in the Baltic Sea when a WhatsApp group chat between residents alerted him to the fire.
“As soon as I found out, I was on the first flight back. It was sickening, especially when I realised it was my own flat.”
The majority of the damage in his flat is due to smoke, meaning sentimental items such as the programme from the 2003 FA Cup Final, where he was mascot, and his poker trophies are safe.
However, his Apple computer and TV have been ruined.
David Bradford, who rents a flat on the sixth floor, was at work in his City office when he saw the news.
“I was just scrolling through Twitter when I saw the picture,” he said. “Because of the smoke, I couldn’t see whether my flat was affected or not. I just got up, and sprinted out of the office.”
When he got there, he realised his flat was safe. He’s now concerned about what will happen next.
“People are being told different things about expenses and what we’re entitled to. On the day of the fire, the communication was fantastic. However, since then it’s got worse and worse.”
He and his neighbours have been staying in hotels, and have been told it could take six to nine months to move back into their flats.
“If you look at Ballymore, everything seems to take longer than expected,” said Andrew. “You have to take everything they say with a pinch of salt.”
The issue is the latest occupants have faced since the block opened last year.
Service fees have rocketed by 60 per cent in that time; residents were charged 10 times more than they should have been for utilities after an error with the new system; and a tense meeting between the portfolio manager and tenants on June 27 saw the latter storm out in anger.
Ballymore released a statement to residents on Friday that said the fire was caused by a cigarette thrown away into a clay flower pot on a balcony. The heat of the cigarette, combined with the heat of the plant pot in the summer weather, sparked the fire that ruined five studio flats.
The Ham&High understands the owners of the flat where the blaze started are denying responsibility. Ballymore has said it is stepping up patrols to inspect balconies over the next few days for any flammable material.
Andrew said: “I haven’t been sleeping well. There’s one resident who saw it happen, who’s had nightmares about a Grenfell-style fire ever since.
“The one positive has been how residents have come together since the fire.
“It’s been really stressful. It’s now about getting my stuff out, getting insurance to pay, and washing my hands of them.”
A Ballymore spokeswoman said: “Providing residents with a safe and secure home is our priority. We are committed to getting repairs completed and the facilities in the Orwell building open as soon as possible. We are in discussion with our insurers regarding the scope of the repair work, but this is no small task and we don’t expect Orwell building to be occupied for the remainder of this year. We organised immediate temporary accommodation for all affected residents, and our insurers are now contacting residents regarding a longer-term solution.”