Malcolm Cameron-Lee thought he was doing the right thing when he decided to invest his lifesavings into property twenty years ago to fund a comfortable retirement.
At the time, “pension schemes were being mismanaged” and, as an electrical contractor, he believed “the way things were working it was better to fend for yourself”.
But the dream of home ownership has turned into a nightmare because of the long-running cladding scandal that has left the 58-year-old “penniless and about to go bankrupt”.
“We’ve been stitched up for so long and now it’s ruined me,” he told Sky News.
Malcolm bought nine small rental flats in Salford’s City Link development between 2007-8, for around £80,000 each.
But now they are effectively valued at £0 because of defects found in checks required after the Grenfell Tower fire.
The issues include flammable cladding, insulation, wooden balconies, and missing fire doors – with banks unwilling to take the risk of lending on the properties until they are made safe.
The works have been estimated to cost £33,000 per flat.
While ministers have repeatedly said that leaseholders should not pay for the mistakes of developers in the wake of Grenfell, which exposed a widespread building safety scandal, Malcolm is one of many who does not currently qualify for support.
The protections announced in last year’s Building Safety Act exclude buy-to-let landlords who own more than three properties – so-called “non-qualifying leaseholders”.
People in this group can be liable to pay for cladding remediation and are also shut out from a protective cap on expensive non-cladding costs.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove previously said the exclusion was because he did not want to support those with “significant means” to pay for remediation themselves.
But Malcolm accused the government of “discriminating against leaseholders who have grafted all their lives and saved hard to fund our own retirements”.
Having worked as an electrical contractor for 40 years, the income from the rent on the flats was his savings to put towards his pension.
But those savings have run dry because of the “spiralling costs” of maintaining the properties.
Malcolm has had to pay “extortionate” amounts for interim safety measures such as a waking watch and new fire alarm system, the latter costing him about £1,200 per flat.
His annual service charge has more than doubled from £900 to £2,100 while his building insurance is expected to shoot up by 42% this year.
This is on top of rising mortgage rates which have caused his payments to soar from £20,000 to £55,000 in the last year.
Malcolm is effectively hostage to these terms because the safety issues mean “the properties are valued at nothing, so there is no chance of being able to re-mortgage or sell”.
And he fears being stuck for many more years because there is no timeline for when the remediation will be complete.
Since the issues came to light the developer of Malcolm’s 17-metre high block has dissolved and filed under a new name.
Rendall and Rittner, who now manage the City Link development, told Sky News they are “working towards a resolution” and indicated they will seek funding for the cladding removal from the government’s medium-rise scheme for where developers can’t be traced.
The Department for Housing also insisted Malcolm would benefit from this scheme, despite his non-qualifying status, when contacted for comment.
But the scheme – to be funded by a new tax on the building industry – isn’t yet open, and Malcolm can no longer afford to wait.
“I can’t carry on, I have lost all my money,” he said.
“I am down to my last pennies, and I am going to file for bankruptcy beginning of May.
“I will lose the flats which were my income while I was retraining as something else. I will lose my home that I live in with my wife and I will lose my pension.
“I am normally very positive, but this has left me feeling broken. If I wasn’t married, I’d be on the street.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Housing insisted “all leaseholders in buildings above 11 metres are protected from the cost of fixing unsafe cladding” as they pointed to its various funding schemes announced to address the building safety scandal.
But the End Our Cladding Scandal campaign (EOCS) said there is more to be done, and Malcolm’s “desperate story spells out the unfairness of the supposedly protective legislation that the government has devised, which has limited the help that is on offer”.
The campaign group estimates there are thousands of non-qualifying leaseholders excluded from protections in the Building Safety Act. As well as landlords with multiple properties, the group includes those in low-rise buildings below 11 metres.
Campaigners fear the dividing line will have a ripple effect on remediation, with works delayed or unable to go ahead if non-qualifying flat owners can’t pay.
Giles Grover, a spokesperson for the group, said: “The government has known about Malcolm’s circumstances for over a year, but has done nothing and there are many other non-qualifying leaseholders in the same situation – how many more ordinary people must have their lives ruined before Mr Gove, Mr Sunak and Chancellor Hunt will be moved to change course?”