Doctor lives in 'squalid' hotels after flammable flat blocked job move

NHS consultant Teresa Doherty from Romford

NHS consultant Teresa Doherty is stuck living in 'squalid' hotels after a failed fire inspection left her Romford flat unsellable. - Credit: Teresa Doherty

An NHS doctor says she is living in “squalid” hotel rooms and may have to declare bankruptcy, after her home was declared a fire hazard.

Consultant rheumatologist Teresa Doherty said she was consumed by “dread” after potentially flammable cladding was found on her building.

She feared the cost of removing it could wipe out her entire investment in the property.

“It’s so painful,” she said. “The wait to find out is just excruciating. It completely paralyzes any plans I might have. I’m stuck. I can’t declare myself bankrupt. I can’t move on.”

“Significant risk”

Teresa bought a flat in Chapel Court, on the Oldchurch Road estate opposite Queen’s Hospital, in 2017. 

Last year, she accepted a new job in Brighton and put her flat on the market.

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“Within three weeks, I had accepted an offer on my property and my offer on another property was accepted,” she said. “Everything was going well.”

But then disaster struck. A fire safety inspection gave Chapel Court a rating of B2 – the worst available – due to the discovery of Expanded Polystyrene Insulation (EPS).

The report said the insulation posed “a significant risk of external fire spread”. 

“The implications of that were that my buyers couldn’t get anyone to lend them a mortgage on my property, so I couldn’t buy my other property,” said Teresa.

But she had already resigned her old job and accepted the new one. Unable to spend four hours a day commuting, she said her life was now “a suitcase in a small room”.

“I have to rent pretty squalid places as temporary accommodation while I pay for my mortgage and service charges at home,” she said.

“I had never budgeted to still be paying a mortgage and service charge and be taking up accommodation on top. I have to stay in real bad hotels because it’s what I can afford. It’s grim.”

Chapel Court in Romford

Residents say they are 'stuck' in Chapel Court, Romford, after it failed a fire safety inspection - and the cost of getting out could be bankruptcy. - Credit: Google Streetview

“Incredibly stressful”

The B2 rating means remedial works are required and makes it almost impossible for any leaseholder to sell their property until the works are completed.

Owner Swan Housing Association has suggested to residents that it will apply for cash from a £5billion fund set up by government to help pay for remedial works.

However, the company told the Recorder that Chapel Court is under 18 metres tall – meaning it may not be eligible.

In an email to one leaseholder last week, it wrote: “At this stage we can’t guarantee that there will not be any costs recharged to leaseholders.”

“The works would be very costly and lengthy,” said Teresa. “I have no idea how much it would be, but I expect that it would be all of my equity in the property.

“This situation has totally changed my outlook on buying a property in the UK as a leaseholder. I have paid service charges for years. If I had rented for the same price as I was paying my mortgage, I would be much better off now.”

One option would be to rent her flat out – but after covering the service charges, “a bedroom in somebody else’s house is probably all I could afford. It’s incredibly stressful. I don’t know how many people could survive this sort of stress.”

Chapel Court under construction in 2012.

Chapel Court under construction in 2012. - Credit: Google Streetview

“In limbo” 

Teresa isn’t the only leaseholder whose life is on hold.

Filmmaker Reece Lipman bought 25 per cent of a one-bedroom flat in Chapel Court under a shared-ownership scheme. He lives there with his partner.

“Any dreams we had of being able to sell the flat are gone,” he said. “We want to start a family. Now we are going to be stuck for I don’t know how long. It could be four or five years until we are able to move. It’s an impossible situation.

“It’s very much causing us mental health issues. We are worried and anxious all the time. We’ve spent a year in limbo and thought we might see a light at the end of the tunnel and it feels like someone’s just turned the light off again. We are in limbo.”

Filmmaker Reece Lipman, from Chapel Court in Romford.

Filmmaker Reece Lipman wanted to sell his flat, move in with his partner and start a family. Now that plan is on hold. - Credit: Reece Lipman

Swan Housing said: “We are now carrying out further investigations into the make-up of the external walls in this block, which will help us understand exactly what remedial works are required.”

In the meantime, it said fire engineers had deemed Chapel Court “safe to occupy”.

“Swan Housing Association’s priority is the health and safety of its residents,” it said. “We understand that residents may have concerns and we will ensure that residents are kept informed as this work continues.”

Affected residents can call 0300 303 3500 for “specialist support”.

For more, read: 

Residents 'stuck' in flammable flats can't sell their homes

MP: Government's flammable cladding failure is ruining lives