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Maintenance of Tenement Scheme Property

Published on 31/05/2018

Following on from our January story on the cross party support for research into maintenance of tenement communal property, a further debate was held in the Scottish Parliament last week at which the following motion was passed:

“That the Parliament believes that; tenement housing stock, as defined in the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004, is an important housing sector for many people in Scotland and that maintenance of this stock is vital for all those owning and living in the sector and to wider society; notes the creation and ongoing work of the cross-party supported Working Group on Maintenance of Tenement Scheme Property; agrees that a review should be carried out of relevant existing legislation and of how tenement housing in Scotland could potentially be better maintained and enhanced, which should include consideration of the potential costs and impact of mandatory building health checks, new initiatives that would help facilitate owners to collectively undertake maintenance of tenement communal property, and what is the best role for property factors; considers that there are property factor companies that perform their duties well, but that there are some that are performing poorly; acknowledges the limited role of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber) in improving the performance of property factors and considers that the system for members of the public to make complaints should be improved, and believes that there is a need for a more robust process to remove property factors that repeatedly break the property factors code of conduct or duties, and calls on the Scottish Government to review the current system.”

The working group appears to be focusing their attention on considering compulsion of owners of tenement property to ensure their buildings are better maintained and enhanced, which, coupled with the ongoing review of the Code of Conduct for Property Factors, should ensure our treasured tenement stock thrives.

We were heartened by some of the positive commentary from the MSP’s involved in the debate. Here are some of the highlights:

In reference to the issues faced, Graham Simpson MSP said:

“When we talk about tenements, we are talking about buildings in common ownership, and we could mean any block of flats of any age or one of those four-in-a-block buildings.”

and

“We are standing at a condition cliff edge.”

And in reference to the number of complaints referred through the FTT system:

“The number of tribunal cases is small in relation to the size of the client base, and most factors do not get rulings against them when they appear.”

Commenting on the factoring industry, Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said:

“I was gratified by the responsibility that the property factor industry showed in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire. The Property Managers Association Scotland rushed to assist the Scottish Government in its efforts to ascertain how many buildings were exposed.

Property management is an important structure in the theatre of housing delivery in this country. By and large, factors act responsibly and offer solutions to everyday problems of communal living, whether we are talking about stair lighting, security, cleaning or insurance. They also have a place in the foothills of our democracy, in that they help to establish residents’ associations, through which people can work together to make their communities better and address common problems.”

When considering the management of tenements, Jeremy Balfour MSP said:

“The issue is then what happens if the tenement is not being maintained correctly. We can have all the good wishes and aspire to tenements being kept in the right order but, unless local authorities are willing to use the correct sanctions and enforcement, we will simply end up with lots of notices being put on buildings but no enforcement or action being taken.”

“That takes me to my next point, which is that factoring can help.”

“Factoring is the way forward but, as I have said, the right sanctions—and the enforcement of those sanctions—must lie behind that.”

Ben McPherson MSP touched on the social importance of well-maintained tenements:

“Housing is crucial, because it really matters to people’s quality of life whether their communal stair is in good condition or whether there is a secure lock on the door, and it really matters if the roof is in good condition—not just for the building’s integrity but for the wellbeing of all the owners or tenants who live in the property.”

Daniel Johnson MSP commending the work of the Tenement Action Group:

“There is a real case for change, and I welcome the fact that the working group will be looking at the issues that Ben MacPherson set out very well. The concept of individualised ownership in the way that people own tenement properties does not take into account the fact that they are collective owners of a building. There is a sense of common ownership of a single building that is not captured in the law, yet that is the fundamental point that needs to be captured and addressed in law.

I thank the tenement action group, whose work has been a positive starting point. It supplied the working group with a list of seven key points that it would like to see addressed. Those range from simple things such as having the contact details for all the owners in a stair available and freely shared—the identity of owners is publicly available but the means of contacting them is not—to issues around sinking funds and debt recovery. It is critical that we go from a situation that is more about enabling owners to get compensation and make arrangements for common repairs on a one-off basis to a situation in which there is on-going preventative maintenance. That is what we need to see.”

Gordon Lindhurst MSP encouraged a culture change:

“A culture of factoring, including a mandatory system for new-build flats, could mean that owners would be able to maintain buildings from the very beginning, and to keep buildings on the sunny plateau that I mentioned. As we have heard today, some factors do a superb job….”

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart) considered the powers Local Authorities already hold:

“Mr Johnson asked which local authorities use the missing share powers. The civil servants have come up with an answer quite quickly—probably because it saves them time, as they will not have to write to him. Eight local authorities currently have a policy in place for missing shares, and seven have used the powers; they are South Ayrshire, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, East Lothian and East Renfrewshire. Inverclyde has the policy but has not used the power yet, as far as we are aware. I want to move from that eight to all 32 authorities, if they need to use the powers, and Mr Rowley and Mr Johnson can be assured that I will raise that with housing conveners when I next meet them.”

Kevin Stewart MSP went on to say:

“We accept that most factors provide a good service”.

In closing the debate, Jamie Greene MSP concluded:

“We want a system of compulsory factoring for new-build flats and increased regulations for the sector that improve the culture of property management in Scotland.”

“Factoring should be compulsory on new-build flats, so that factors are in place from the beginning..”

“I will sum up what the Conservatives are asking of the Government today. We ask for mandatory health checks on buildings; compulsory factoring schemes for new-build flats; a beefing up of the complaints system for factors and a review of the status quo; increased regulation of factors; and a transparent register of factors with ratings to flag poor performance and poor practice. What more can the Government do to ensure that councils are able and willing to use the powers that are at their disposal? We should also take a frank look at whether housing legislation is fit for purpose.”

Hacking and Paterson continue to offer our services, knowledge and experience to this cross party working group and hope that we can help influence and assist our home owning customers and all tenement homeowners across the country in improving the standards of tenements throughout the country.

We continue to look ahead with anticipation as to the future developments and improvements hopefully arising from this debate and if any homeowners wish to find out more about how Hacking and Paterson can assist them with proactive maintenance please contact us here.

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