For too long flat owner-occupiers and landlords have suffered, unable to exercise proper legal process to force uncooperative co-owners to pay their share. Usually this leaves the willing few paying more than their fair share for essential repairs to the common parts of the property. What many homeowners and landlords alike fail to realise is that when they buy a flat, they are not only responsible for everything inside their own flat door, but are co-owners of an entire tenement that needs regular maintenance and constant care.
For some time now, a small group of organisations have been working together with MSPs across the political spectrum in the Scottish Parliament, as part of a Tenement Maintenance Working Group. This group is looking at how Scotland can address the issues of maintaining our ageing tenements.
In 2001, new laws were introduced to enable owners to get help in making claims against neighbours who refuse to pay and to set standards for privately-let accommodation – but little has been done to address the need for private owners to proactively take responsibility for the tenement they live in.
Late last year the working group published its recommendations to Parliament and just before Christmas, the Scottish Government published its response which welcomed the report and agreed that action is needed. While the Scottish Government considers as ambitious the report’s aspiration to address this problem by an Act of Parliament, even as far away as 2025, if we are going to tackle this problem it needs to be much sooner than that.
With the Scottish House Condition Survey 2017 reporting that half of homes in Scotland are in a state of critical disrepair, we must remedy this now or our crumbling tenements will not last much longer.
The Scottish Government wants to spearhead the development of innovative and ambitious climate change targets – therefore, it needs to show leadership in the housing sector by protecting our homes from further disrepair. The threat of climate change in creating unusual weather patterns could cost flat owners millions of pounds in repairs if proper maintenance is not carried out to protect homes from higher temperatures, increased winds and more rainfall.
To meet the ambitious net zero carbon target, we must be seeking to not only maintain older tenement buildings but actually improve them to reduce their carbon emissions. This will likely require installation of new materials or technology, again needing consent or possibly funding from all flat owners.
While all of this takes time and money, action can be taken now to promote the importance of homes maintenance through planned programmes of repair and by building up reserve funds that all owners pay into. These actions can help prevent costly avoidable repairs and ensure that, when needed, funds are available and costs fairly shared. The website www.underoneroof. scot offers impartial advice to flat owners on repairs and maintenance. This useful online resource is an easy way to access information and support. It offers a method for the Scottish Government to disseminate information at a relatively low cost.
From this spring, private landlords in Scotland will be required to upgrade their properties to meet Scottish Government targets of a minimum EPC rating of E by April 2020 and a rating of D by April 2022.
Achieving these is a huge challenge in tenements with multiple types of owner i.e. owner-occupiers, private landlords and social landlords, bearing in mind each type must comply with different laws on repairs and energy efficiency, as well as their shared responsibility to generally maintain the same tenement.
What we need is a radical rethink of the law so owners can easily claim missing shares when co-owners fail to pay, and for proper maintenance programmes to be implemented to ensure that our homes are sustainable for future generations.
Ensuring that all home owners must meet the same standard of repair is crucial in ensuring a coherent strategy for maintaining the roof over everyone’s heads.
John Blackwood, chief executive, Scottish Association of Landlords.