Real Estate

Olympic Village owner sued over fire proofing bill five years after Grenfell

The owner of London’s Olympic Village is being sued over a £27mn bill to upgrade fire safety standards, in a dispute highlighting the slow progress of improvements five years on from the deadly Grenfell tower fire.

Triathlon Homes, which manages 1,379 affordable apartments on the Olympic estate, claims that Get Living — a partnership between Qatari Diar, the property arm of the Qatar Investment Authority, Dutch pension fund APG and Jamie Ritblat’s property advisory company Delancey — is responsible for fire safety remediation work as the current owner of the site.

Triathlon has applied to a tribunal managing property disputes for an order that would require Get Living to accept responsibility for funding the necessary work.

The dispute highlights one of the big challenges in solving the safety crisis exposed by the 2017 fire at Grenfell tower that killed 72 people: determining who should pay to fix blocks of flats that were built years ago and have since changed hands.

Thousands of people around the UK have been unable to move until expensive remediation work takes place, because banks refuse to extend mortgages against properties that have not been signed off as fire safe.

Of a total 66 blocks on the Olympic estate, now rebranded “East Village”, 16 still lack cladding safety certificates that banks require for mortgages. The case brought by Triathlon — a for-profit joint venture between housing associations Southern Housing Group, L&Q and private developer First Base — relates to five blocks where it manages apartments.

Remediation work on the blocks is expected to cost more than £27mn in total, about £16mn of which is associated with the properties managed by Triathlon, with the remaining £11.5mn for properties owned and managed by Get Living.

Blocks of flats off Mirabelle square. This one is Meller House
Of a total 66 blocks on the Olympic estate, 16 still lack fire safety sign-off © Charlie Bibby/FT

Rick de Blaby, chief executive of Get Living said his company would pay its £11.5mn share and has already signed a contract to start the work.

Get Living is also the majority shareholder in the management company for the East Village, EVML, which is responsible for maintaining shared parts of the estate as well as fire safety. Triathlon has a minority stake.

EVML has applied for £13.5mn from the government’s Building Safety Fund to cover the majority of the cost of work to Triathlon-managed properties.

De Blaby said he was “sanguine” about work being fully funded and completed by 2025, and Get Living has received assurances that BSF will pay.

Triathlon’s case reflects anxiety that it will be hit with a bill for repairs, with the company emphasising that BSF funding is not guaranteed, and may not cover the full cost of works.

Triathlon claims it should not have to pay because it leases properties from Get Living, which is the freeholder. If the tribunal agrees, this would relieve Triathlon of the burden of costs and, according to Triathlon, encourage Get Living to accelerate fire safety repairs.

Chroma Mansions/Meller House
The Olympic Village was built by the government and then sold after the games to Get Living © Charlie Bibby/FT

“Every day that goes by, residents are prevented from getting on with their lives . . . These defects can be rectified, and it is the freeholder’s responsibility to get this done,” Triathlon said.

A lawyer for Get Living said: “It is Get Living’s case that Triathlon has never been willing to fund its share of the cost.”

Housing secretary Michael Gove has made it clear he expects property developers and freeholders to remedy fire safety problems and not pass costs on to leaseholders.

In a letter to Gove sent in September last year, local MP Lyn Brown said: “Progress has ground to a halt as the responsible parties are seemingly denying their legal obligations under your new [building safety] act.”

“Get Living continue to build homes at East Village and across the country. It seems to me that this contravenes your publicly stated view that this should not be allowed while a developer continues to shirk responsibility for making good fire safety in their existing developments,” wrote the Labour MP.

De Blaby said that “any assertion that we’ve delayed work or shirked responsibility is inaccurate”.

“The original developer was the government,” he added.

The Olympic Village was built by the government and then sold after the games to Get Living.

Ritblat and Delancey are also in the midst of a court battle with UK tax authorities.

HMRC claims that income and employment-related taxes are owed on £141mn of profit from Delancey’s flagship DV4 fund that was paid from a trust to 24 employees, including Ritblat. DV4 was the vehicle that invested in the Olympic Village estate.

Ritblat has argued that a 2015 tax settlement of just £400 precludes any further collections by HMRC.

Delancey said in recently filed annual accounts for the year to March 2022 that the firm’s tax bill could be “tens of millions of pounds” if HMRC wins.

Qatari Diar declined to comment.

This article has been updated since its original publication to correctly state the entity being sued and to clarify certain details of Get Living’s position.


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