base study: Managing a 2-year insurance claim and refurb
One of our long-term clients is the leaseholder of a property on the Boundary Estate, right here in Shoreditch, moments from the base HQ. It’s a spacious one-bedroom apartment with a large separate kitchen on the top floor of one of the previously local-authority-owned buildings surrounding Arnold Circus. This estate has an incredible history; with construction dating back to 1890, it is noted as one of the earliest social housing schemes and the entire conservation area is Grade II listed. We have been letting and managing this flat since 2011 and so are very familiar with the property and development, which is maintained by Tower Hamlet Homes.
In September 2019, our tenants at the time reported that water was streaming down the lounge walls from the ceiling. The leak was so severe that it even penetrated the flat on the floor below. This was coming through the roof of the building to enter the property. We reported the issue to Tower Hamlets Homes, the freeholder of the building and to whom the service charges are paid for block maintenance and repairs. Although we made it clear that the issue was exacerbated during rainfall, and in the knowledge that the property is the uppermost apartment in the building, the council initially sent a plumber to assess the problem rather than a roofer, thus delaying any potential resolution. The problem seemed to abate for a while but then returned in February 2020, leaking into the flat in two different places and saturating the walls.
At this point, we opened an insurance claim for the damage caused and for the loss of rent. By June 2020, with the leak still causing major issues and no solution provided by Tower Hamlet Homes, the property had become uninhabitable and we had to move our tenants into alternative accommodation, provided on a short term contract by another of our clients whose property had become available at the right time. This meant that we needed to also claim on insurance for the alternative accommodation and the removals necessary to get our tenants there.
After much chasing, we were eventually advised by THH that the leak was caused by two issues: the first a blocked drainage pipe, and the second a slipped tile. Even after this was confirmed, it took a long time for a permit to be provided to get the scaffolding up allowing contractors to complete the roofing works. Our team sent emails, put in lots of calls, and even had to take to social media and contact the then-mayor of Tower Hamlets in order to get any traction on works. At last, the roof repairs were complete, and the insurance provider was able to send in their builders to start the refit of the flat itself.
Unfortunately, in September 2020, the builders contacted our property manager to inform us that one of the walls was wet once more and that the leak was not fixed as previously thought. They therefore could not continue with the works at the property and downed their tools. Frustratingly, it seemed we were back at square one.
The slow pace and general ineptitude of the project management by THH continued, and after another lengthy wait the scaffolding permit was approved and the roof works were fixed effectively - a resolution which required lots of phone calls, chaser emails and more social media complaints to achieve . Once more, the insurance provider was able to get their contractors back into the property and the internal refit was completed by December 2021 - approaching two years since the leak was first reported.
While a property leak is never a welcome report to receive as a property manager, since water ingress is one of the more difficult and urgent problems to handle, our proficient project management skills were the key to handling this maintenance issue and subsequent insurance claim. With our team staying on the case for our client across multiple communication channels, Tower Hamlets Homes were eventually able to resolve the leak on their second attempt.
In addition, due to comprehensive record keeping and diligent work on the insurance claim, the insurers covered the entire internal refurbishment and also paid out to our client for the loss of rent for the entire duration of the leak. Thanks to our hard work throughout the process, our landlord didn’t lose a penny and by Christmas 2021 we had new tenants moving into the flat ready to make it their home.
The key takeaway from this needlessly prolonged situation is to always maintain a building’s roof space, gutters and gullies. While the slow response and poor management from Tower Hamlets Homes was disheartening, a simple half-days job maintaining the integrity of the roof could have prevented the leak, avoiding the many hours of work and saving the insurance company many thousands of pounds.