Housing Maintenance (Tenements)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 25th October 2017.

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Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

2. To ask the Scottish Government what consideration it is giving to how tenement housing can be better maintained. (S5O-01346)

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

The maintenance of the common parts of tenements is principally the responsibility of the owners and is usually governed by rules and conditions that are set out in the title deeds for the flats within a block.

The Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004 provides a structure, known as the tenement management scheme, for the maintenance and management of tenements.

The Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 gave local authorities discretionary powers to require owners to carry out work on substandard houses and to provide assistance with repairs and improvements to private property. The Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 amended those powers to make them more effective and introduced new provisions to allow local authorities to pay missing shares for work that is agreed by a majority of owners in a tenement.

In the private rented sector, the new private residential tenancy, which comes into effect in December this year, will significantly improve tenant security and better enable tenants to exercise their right to report a breach of the repairing standard to the housing and property chamber of the first-tier tribunal.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for that very full answer. I take his point about title deeds, but does he agree that some title deeds do not have any provision for a factor, which makes it difficult for owner-occupiers or landlords of private tenants to get together to organise things and carry out repairs? Does he agree that there may be a need to ensure that a factor is in place for every single tenement?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government agrees that owners of tenements should ideally plan ahead for future common repairs and maintenance and that property factors can play an important role in ensuring that repairs are made and that properties are therefore maintained. However, the services of a factor come at a cost and some home owners would not welcome a requirement to hand over sums of money to a sinking fund for repairs that are not required at that point in time. I encourage home owners to work together to share the responsibility of looking after their properties. However, to legislate to require there to be a factor or sinking fund would place an additional financial burden on home owners who currently do not have those in place, and it might be difficult to enforce.

I suggest that all members look at the under one roof website, which can be immensely beneficial for property owners in dealing with some of the issues that Mr Mason has raised.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Next week, I will sponsor an event on this issue. There is cross-party interest in the issue, and I know that Ben Macpherson has lodged a motion on it, which I have signed. Does the minister agree with the call from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors that there should be tenement health checks? Does he think that there is a need for further legislation? I recently asked him a written question about whether the powers that he mentioned that councils have are being used. He referred me to councils, so I have made a freedom of information request and I will be revealing the figures at that event next week. The minister is welcome to come along and hear them, to find out just how effective or ineffective that legislation is.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I thank Mr Simpson for his invitation. I cannot say now whether I will be able to attend, but I have taken note of his invitation. I am adamant about the need to ensure that local authorities use the legislation that is currently at their disposal. I do not see the point of coming up with a raft of new legislation when that might not be required and when current legislation is not used. I thank Graham Simpson for his support in trying to ensure that councils use the powers that are at their disposal.

Beyond that, the Government has looked at a number of things. In Glasgow, Perthshire, and Argyll and Bute, we are running a pilot of area loan schemes that assist owners to carry out essential repairs and energy efficiency improvements. I will look at that pilot’s findings to see whether there is sufficient demand to establish support for procurement of a nationwide scheme, as part of Scotland’s energy efficiency programme, to continue to upgrade Scotland’s tenement properties.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I thank John Mason for asking a question about an important but often overlooked issue. I agree with the minister that not all solutions are necessarily legislative, and I agree with him that we must help owners to come together. What activity has the Government undertaken to work with credit unions, which could help owners to come together on collective savings, collective loans and invoiced factoring, which could help with the financing of much-needed repairs to tenement buildings?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Mr Johnson has come up with a particularly good idea. I am more than willing to talk to credit unions about their providing help, if that is at all possible. As I said earlier, beyond that we will look at all possible solutions. That is one of the reasons why we are running the pilot, which is helpful to those who maybe cannot afford repairs at a particular point in time. It allows us to take an equity stake in the property and get the money back in the future. I am more than willing to take on board Mr Johnson’s suggestion about approaching credit unions and I will let him know how I get on in that regard.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I ask the minister, when undertaking any review of tenement law, maintenance or guidance, to bear in mind that tenements are not always very old buildings, such as the red sandstone buildings that we often think about. In new towns such as East Kilbride and some of its peripheral housing estates, we have tenements that are made of a much more modern fabric. That brings its own questions and problems, in particular in the light of right to buy, because tenements can end up with mixed tenure involving local authority owners, private owners and, indeed, private landlords, some of whom are not always willing to play their part. It can lead to severe factoring problems and many owners feeling that they get neither good value for money nor good social value. Could that be looked at as well?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

In recent times Ms Fabiani has raised a number of points about property factors and new developments. In the Title Conditions (Scotland) Act 2003, there is provision on manager burdens and title deeds, which are typically used by a developer to appoint a factor in the initial years of a housing development.

I know that Ms Fabiani has an interest in the issue. I would also say to her that, once the manager burden has expired, the owners of flats in a tenement have rights to act together to dismiss a property factor and appoint a new one. I will continue to work with Linda Fabiani and other members to try to improve the situation. Once again, I ask all members to have a look at the under one roof website.