Cladding crisis: landmark ruling puts liability on building contractor

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The High Court in London has delivered a landmark judgment that establishes legal liability for remedial safety work on buildings in a ruling that could help resolve one of the biggest unanswered questions from the Grenfell Tower fire.

In a ruling last week, Mulalley & Co, an Essex-based contractor, was ordered to pay damages towards the cost of removing cladding it had fitted to four residential tower blocks in Gosport on the south coast of England which had been deemed to unsafe after the Grenfell blaze.

The ruling marks is the first time financial liability for remediation work on unsafe cladding has been established in court. It is thought that the outcome could have far-reaching ramifications for leaseholders, building owners and contractors in England.

Andy Hulme, chief executive of housing association Hyde Group which brought the claim via its subsidiary Martlet Homes against Mulalley, said the case had ‘massive implications for the market’.

He said it should help unblock disputes between leaseholders living in blocks fitted with flammable cladding and the buildings’ owners over who should pay to have it removed.

“It’s the first time a contractor has been held accountable for the quality of work and the materials they have used,” he said. ”Based on this case we now know where the lines of accountability lie.”

The court has yet to decide what the extent of the damages will be. According to Financial Times Hyde is looking to recoup as much as much as possible of the £8mn it spent fixing the blocks.

Criminal proceedings are expected to follow. Ahead of the inquiry laying out its conclusions, the High Court’s ruling could provide a legal precedent and a new path for leaseholders and property owners to recoup the costs of fixing blocks found to be unsafe in the aftermath of Grenfell.

Mary-Anne Bowring, a fire safety expert and group managing director at property consultant Ringley Group, said of the ruling is: “A landmark that gives hope to millions of residents living in unsafe buildings by opening the potential for legal action against other construction contractors who installed unsafe cladding”.

She added: “However, it is not enough to simply expect developers and housing associations to launch further legal action off the back of today’s judgment in order to recover the money spent on fixing unsafe buildings.”

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