Leaseholders of a Waterfront block fear they face "unknown life-changing bills" and may fall into bankruptcy as they continue to live away from their homes 12 months on.

On November 15, 2022, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service issued a prohibition notice, restricting access to some parts of Cardinal Lofts in Foundry Lane due to a fire risk. 

The evacuation covered 15 flats on floors seven to nine and was carried out despite the management company implementing improvements, including the installation of a new fire alarm. 

The evacuated residents said they were woken up by fire officers at 10pm and asked to leave their homes. 

In the days after that notice, Viv Sharma, who had been living at Cardinal Lofts for 14 years, then said he and his neighbours were "left in the dark," as they expected at least 24-hour notice. 

Mr Sharma added: “We couldn’t believe they want us to move out at this particular minute. We were in shock, including my 5-year-old son.” 

The residents said they were not sure if they would be moving out for a month or a year. 

The fire service said then that they had "no option" but to take immediate action following an independent report that revealed potential fire safety risks.  

On February 21 of this year, the remaining residents were asked to leave their homes as the building was “no longer safe for occupation”.   

Ipswich Star: Cardinal Lofts homeowners may face bankruptcy following evacuation exactly one year ago, NewsquestCardinal Lofts homeowners may face bankruptcy following evacuation exactly one year ago, Newsquest (Image: Newsquest)

The freeholder, Grey GR, said that the decision follows the outcome of several in-depth reports carried out in the building. 

In March, the frustrated residents who had to move to temporary accommodation staged a protest demanding the building's owners fix their homes. 

Campaign group Ipswich Cladiators then met with Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service representatives. 

Ipswich Cladiators spokesperson said: “It’s not just about how we've been kicked out of our homes, how we've been let down. 

“Fire safety defects were known about in late 2020. They've had plenty of opportunity to remediate and make our homes safe. 

“We don't have any answers about what's going to happen at Cardinal Lofts in the future, whether the building will be fixed, and how long it's going to take.” 

In October of this year, Grey GR offered to buy back the leases of 80 flats at Cardinal Lofts. 

Their spokesperson said that the freeholder has concluded an “extensive assessment” of Cardinal Lofts and gained an understanding of the scale of the issues caused by the original developers during the re-development.   

The residents said they were left with "mixed emotions" after some of the leaseholders received valuations believed to be way below the market value.    

On November 10, the Cardinal Lofts campaigners issued a statement that reads the leaseholders are rejecting calls to have historic building safety costs deducted from their settlements. 

Ipswich Star: Cardinal Lofts homeowners may face bankruptcy following evacuation exactly one year ago, NewsquestCardinal Lofts homeowners may face bankruptcy following evacuation exactly one year ago, Newsquest (Image: Newsquest)

The leaseholders whose properties are valued under £175,000 are fully protected and not liable for any costs, however, those whose apartments are valued over £175,000 have £10,000 capped costs, payable over a period of 10 years. 

Ipswich Cladiators spokesperson added: “We have already lost our homes, and many of us remain displaced in temporary accommodation following evacuation a year ago. 

“With the buyback offers on the table, we thought there was finally light at the end of the tunnel, of a four-year fight to have our homes made safe. 

“But again, we are in the dark, unfairly treated with lower-than-market-value buyback offers, with many of us still be facing unknown life-changing bills. 

“This will include the costs for 24-hour waking watch patrols, surveys and other fees, likely to be over £1 million, and shared between 80 leaseholders. There is a lack of transparency to these costs, and will force some homeowners into bankruptcy.” 

The freeholder Grey GR said that the offers given to the leaseholders are based on independent market valuations, assuming no building safety issues are present, and almost half of leaseholders have now accepted their offers. 

They added: “Our investigations showed that the building would require significant work at great cost to restore it to a safe standard, so we therefore believe that the fairest and most equitable solution for all is for Grey to buy-back leases from leaseholders.” 

A spokesperson for Ipswich Borough Council added: “Since evacuation last year, the freehold owner of Cardinal Lofts remains committed to keeping both the leaseholders of the apartments and ourselves up to date with their plans and timelines going forward.”

Timeline of events:

November 15 - Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service issues a prohibition notice for three floors in Cardinal Lofts, covering 15 flats on floors seven to nine. A waking watch is put in place for the rest of the building

November 16 - Residents asked to leave said they feel left in the dark after being asked to evacuate their homes

November 16 - Ipswich MP Tom Hunt meets with minister for building safety Lee Rowley to make the government aware of what's going on following the evacuation

November 23 - Letter sent saying temporary accommodation will be set up for evacuated residents until January 2023

December 7 - Ipswich MP Tom Hunt meets residents at Cardinal Lofts three weeks on from the evacuation

December 17 - The partial evacuation of the flat complex is extended until January 2024

February 21 - Grey GR announces Cardinal Lofts is "no longer safe for occupation" following the results of several in-depth reports

February 22 - The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove has "instructed action" in a strong message to those involved in the Ipswich block

February 26 - Residents left 'angry' after 'threatening' prohibition letter

February 27 - Residents of eight flats are understood to have not yet evacauted Cardinal Lofts

March 2 – Grey GR said "it is crucial that residents understand the risk to their safety”

March 2 – Cardinal Lofts residents issue a letter of seven reasons why they do not want to evacuate from the building

March 9 – Cardinal Lofts residents fear over new flat offer

March 14 – Fire service issues second safety notice

March 15 – Residents have issued an ultimatum following further defects discovered at Cardinal Lofts

March 17 – Cardinal Lofts residents meet with fire service

March 18 – Frustrated Cardinal Lofts residents stage protest

March 21 – Grey GR responds to Cardinal Lofts protest campaign

March 21 – Cardinal Lofts residents' anger over flat access issue

April 20 – Cardinal Lofts residents seek a council tax payback

April 21 – Commonhold Now joins Cardinal Lofts in their battle

July 4- Cardinal Loft's freeholder revealed 17 additional issues within the building

August 21- Leaseholders have had their service charges and ground rents for the year refunded

October 13- Grey GR offered to buy back the leases of 80 flats at Cardinal Lofts