Tenement Maintenance

– in the Scottish Parliament on 26th June 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-17892, in the name of Kevin Stewart, on the working group on tenement maintenance.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I welcome the publication earlier this month of the final recommendations report of the working group on maintenance of tenement scheme property. I commend the group for bringing together members from all parties and a wide range of stakeholder interests. As convener, Graham Simpson has led the work to bring the report and its recommendations to publication. I also commend his predecessor as convener, Ben Macpherson, for his work to bring the group together and get it started.

The consensus that has been achieved is reflected in the motion today, which has the support of all parties in the Parliament. The motion seeks the Parliament’s agreement that the working group’s recommendations merit serious and careful consideration. I fully agree with that, and I have previously committed to consider the recommendations. Today, I reiterate that commitment. I intend to make a substantive response to the report in the autumn.

I note the working group’s intention to hold a conference in September to consider the recommendations. The Government will support the approach, and I am sure that discussions at the event will help us to take the matter forward.

Many people in Scotland live in tenements that will continue to provide good-quality, safe, sustainable and affordable homes for many years—but only if we look after the homes that we live in. Owners of tenements need to accept their responsibility for protecting and preserving them, whether we are talking about our older built heritage or brand-new flats, and they must carry out repairs and maintenance to common parts of their properties.

According to the most recent Scottish house condition survey local authority report, it is estimated that 36 per cent of Scottish homes are in tenements. Disrepair is worse in tenements than in other kinds of house; it is estimated that 66 per cent of houses and 76 per cent of tenements have at least some minor disrepair, which can cover a wide range of defects, and that around 5 per cent of houses and 8 per cent of tenements have extensive disrepair.

Regular maintenance is not just good practice; it is much more cost effective to invest in regular, proactive maintenance than to let small defects grow, through neglect, into problems that need expensive and potentially ruinous repairs. It is frustrating for owners who accept their responsibilities and are keen to work with their neighbours to find their efforts hampered by a culture of poor maintenance.

It is also necessary to look after our homes to play our part in tackling the global climate emergency. We will need more than 80 per cent of the homes that we currently live in to be in use in 2050.

In its report, the working group recognises that primary legislation will be needed to deliver its recommendations in full and that time is needed for the development and passage of bills. A 10-year timescale is anticipated to implement the recommendations in full, including the proposal to commission the Scottish Law Commission to consider the complex interaction of maintenance responsibilities and property law. I will include the point in the response to the recommendations that I intend to make in autumn.

I completely agree that owners of tenements should plan ahead for future common repairs and maintenance and that they must be prepared to work together and pay their share of the cost of the work. However, as the working group notes in its report, it might be difficult to enforce compulsory sinking funds or five-yearly inspections. It is not clear what would happen if a flat owner did not have the money to contribute to a sinking fund or refused to pay.

Some home owners would not welcome the need to hand over sums of money for repairs that are not required at that point. That does not mean that the proposals are unworkable, but there needs to be serious thought about how they could be funded and enforced in practice; we all need to work together to address those issues. The motion recognises the challenges that must be met to ensure that our housing stock can continue to provide safe and sustainable homes for the future.

Photo of Andy Wightman Andy Wightman Green

The minister has highlighted challenges, such as the sinking fund. Does he accept that there are plenty of examples around the world of such arrangements that operate very smoothly? Although it is a challenge, it is not impossible.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I have not said that it is impossible, and we need to look at what has happened elsewhere to get that absolutely right. I will respond in depth in the autumn about it. Mr Wightman can be assured that we will not do all this in isolation; we will look at practice elsewhere to see whether we can plagiarise the good ideas from other places.

I am pleased that what the Government has done has been acknowledged. We have taken action to improve the condition of Scottish tenements; the positive impact of missing shares powers and equity loans are noted in the report. In my constituency in Aberdeen, I have seen how missing shares powers have had that positive impact—often the threat is enough to persuade an owner to engage with neighbours. However, I accept that we need to go further.

The energy efficient Scotland programme will drive change in Scotland’s housing stock. Poor condition is a factor in the difficulties of keeping houses warm and affordable. A building that lets out heat or lets in water because it is in a poor state of repair is likely to consume more energy to heat comfortably, and that will lead to higher carbon emissions.

We will consider how to take those issues forward as part of the programme. The equity loan scheme provides access to funding for some maintenance works in conjunction with energy efficiency improvements, which could provide a route to funding for tenement owners. We will continue to monitor the scheme’s performance in the coming months with a view to wider roll-out.

I also give an undertaking today that the recommendation to link a five-yearly report on tenement condition to the home report will be looked at as part of the Government’s response to the recommendations for improving home reports.

Traditional stone tenements are a distinctive part of Scotland’s built heritage. We have added to that with more modern types of flat. Our system of individual property ownership is also distinctive. As Professor Robertson notes in his recent report on common repairs for the working group, citing an observation from Roman law—communio est mater rixarum—co-ownership is the mother of disputes. He quotes Hugo Grotius from the 17th century:

“common ownership could bring nothing but discontent and dissention”.

That may be so, but I hope that the report of the working group on tenement maintenance can be a basis for finding a way forward that will allow us to improve co-operation between owners, helping us to build a culture of proactive common maintenance and to preserve our unique buildings for the benefit of future generations.

I move,

That the Parliament appreciates the work of the Working Group on Maintenance of Tenement Scheme Property and the publication of its Final Recommendations Report; acknowledges that the group had cross-party representation and has gathered views from across the Parliament and that of the housing sector; notes that the report acknowledges the important action that has already been taken to improve the condition of Scottish tenements; recognises the challenges that must be met to ensure that Scotland’s housing stock can continue to provide safe and sustainable homes for the future, and believes that the group’s recommendations merit serious and careful consideration.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

I thank the Government for giving up its debating time to debate this issue; the Minister for Europe, Ben Macpherson, who was the initial convener of the working group; and fellow members who have been an integral part of the group—Andy Wightman, Daniel Johnson, John Mason, Jeremy Balfour, Maureen Watt, Stuart McMillan and Gordon Lindhurst, who I suspect was the only member who understood the minister’s attempt at Latin.

We have had a few debates on this subject, but the condition of housing does not get nearly enough attention in this place. It affects all of us and, if things go wrong, it can harm people’s physical and mental health.

We have all dealt with cases of buildings that are in need of repair, damp, insecure or leaking. The statistics—the minister touched on some of them—paint a pretty grim picture. We know from the most recent Scottish house condition survey that 68 per cent of homes have some degree of disrepair; disrepair to critical elements stands at 50 per cent; 28 per cent had some instance of urgent disrepair; and 5 per cent had extensive disrepair. Those figures have not moved in a year. Nearly a fifth of our housing is pre-1919—that is 467,000 homes, and 68 per cent of them have disrepair to critical elements. That is a lot of homes that need a lot of work done to them.

We need to see housing as part of the fabric of our nation. Our built heritage is part of our infrastructure, and we need to view tenement maintenance in that way. There is a need to act. Recent statistics for Edinburgh, for example, show that there are 20 incidents of falling masonry every month. That is just in Edinburgh—if we imagine that replicated across the country, we see the scale of the problem. We are looking not only at older buildings that one might traditionally think of as tenements but at newer buildings, too. In East Kilbride, where I live, a lot of the buildings, which were all built around the same time—they are not pre-1919—are falling into disrepair.

The working group on tenement maintenance is a genuinely cross-party group. That is important, because if we are going to tackle this extremely difficult issue, it needs to be done with the approval of every party in the chamber. Earlier this month, we published our final report with key recommendations; I will come to those in a moment. Implementing the changes will not be easy, and there will be a cost, but we cannot ignore the human cost to physical and mental health and wellbeing of not taking action.

There are three recommendations. First, we believe that tenement properties should be inspected every five years, and a report should be prepared that will be publicly available to existing or prospective owners, tenants, neighbours and policy makers. The purpose of the report will be to show what condition the building is in, how much it will cost to bring it up to standard if it is defective and what needs to be done by way of on-going maintenance.

Secondly, the group recommended the compulsory establishment of owners associations. Such associations are an essential element of tenement maintenance in that they provide leadership and effective decision-making processes and are able to enter into contracts. If, for whatever reason, an owners association cannot be established or it fails, compulsory factoring could be the fallback position.

The final recommendation is the establishment of building reserve funds. There was a lot discussion over how such a fund would look and operate; the minister rightly touched on some of the challenges in that respect. It was decided that a central fund was preferable to an owners association-held fund, as it would have better protection and would make it easier to prevent fraud. We know that none of those ideas is simple. The issue is very complex. The solution could be controversial and a lot of people will not like it, but it needs to be done. The report provides suggestions for further research and actions as well as timelines for the implementation of the recommendations. As the minister said, it could take 10 years or more.

There is a lot still to do, but I am confident that we are on the right path, and I know that the Scottish Government takes the matter seriously. I am pleased to hear that the minister will be making a statement in the autumn—I look forward to that. We need cross-party support, which is why no amendments to the motion have been lodged.

I give my appreciation for the hard work and effort of the stakeholders in the group, our secretariat—Euan Leitch from the Built Environment Forum Scotland and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors—as well as the other organisations and individuals who took part. Without them, we would not be where we are today.

Last May, Parliament voted in favour of a motion that called for a review of legislation on tenements. That has not happened yet, but I hope that today’s debate will be the catalyst for it. I was pleased to hear the minister say that he will make a statement and that the Government will take part in a conference on the issue because, to be frank, doing nothing is not an option.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I, too, begin by reeling off a list of thanks. I thank my fellow members of the cross-party working group. Taking part in such a group h as been genuinely refreshing. It has worked in a very constructive way and certainly without any hint of party-political partisanship.

I thank the Government for making time for the issue to be discussed. The issue is serious, but it could easily be dismissed as technical or not necessarily as important as I believe that it is. I thank Euan Leitch, who put in an absolute power of work. Without his input, the report would not have been written. I also thank RICS, which supplied much of the wherewithal to make the report happen.

There is a simple reason why I think that the work is important. Tenemented residences and homes are absolutely core to my constituency. When we think of Edinburgh Southern, which I represent, we think of places such as Marchmont, Bruntsfield and Morningside. Those places are absolutely built on tenemented maintenance, and we need to maintain such fantastic areas and areas that we might not consider to be tenemented. As we have heard, the buildings range from post-war local authority-built houses to subdivided mansions. All those types of building—that rich seam of different types of homes—are tenemented. We need to maintain them not just because they are nice buildings—many of them are—but because they are critical to our country.

As Graham Simpson pointed out, housing is infrastructure. However, it is our most fundamental form of infrastructure. We are talking about the very homes in which we live. Housing is critical.

The minister and Graham Simpson set out some of the details. Before I set out some of the context, I acknowledge that Andy Wightman established the concept of housing being infrastructure. That is critical. Although housing is infrastructure, we must recognise the context in which the debate is taking place. We are seeing something of a housing crisis on many counts.

We are seeing a crisis of availability. Huge numbers of people in the city of Edinburgh have to live in temporary accommodation for far longer than they should have to. On affordability, too many people find themselves priced out of the housing market or simply find that housing costs take up a disproportionate amount of their wage. There is also the issue of sustainability. I was glad that the minister made points about the environmental sustainability of our housing and the need to invest in that for those reasons.

Those are the reasons why housing is so important. Maintenance is critical to housing for all those social goods, because housing underpins so much wellbeing in this country.

There is a clear public interest in taking forward measures such as those that are set out in the report. It is important that we preserve our housing stock and invest in it for future generations. It is not just the people who live in the houses now who will benefit from investment; future generations who will live in those houses will, too.

That is why we need legal recognition of the reality of tenemented housing. People do not own individual bits of property that are completely distinguished from other people’s property; in effect, they are co-owners of a single building. That fact is not currently recognised in the law, and that needs to change.

Over and above those points, there is a fundamental point of public safety that we need to recognise, which Graham Simpson alluded to. In the city of Edinburgh, there are huge numbers of roof falls every month. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of roof falls almost quadrupled. The 78 roof falls in Edinburgh, including 53 masonry falls, rose to a total of 254 roof falls and 179 masonry falls in 2018. Roof falls can be lethal, and they have been lethal in the past.

The proposals are not simply things that it would be nice to have and which would make lives a little bit better, although they would do. They could potentially save lives. The proposals have already been outlined, but we need building checks to make sure that the buildings continue to be safe and habitable, because preventative spend is much more cost effective than spend that is required when the damage has already been done.

We need owners associations so that people have the structure and the entity through which they can make collective decisions—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You must close now.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I will close shortly. For those reasons—

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

I welcome the proposals and look forward to the minister’s statement in the autumn.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you. I am glad that you understand the word “now”. I call Andy Wightman, who will be followed by Stuart McMillan. The open debate speeches are four minutes, Mr McMillan. I know that you will set the precedent.

Photo of Andy Wightman Andy Wightman Green

As other members have done, I thank the minister for making time for the debate and the Scottish Government for providing some critical funding that oiled the wheels of the work behind the scenes of the debate.

I thank Ben Macpherson, who is not here—presumably he is busy with other things. It was during his members’ business debate in January 2018 that the proposal to establish a cross-party working group was first made. Like Daniel Johnson, I very much enjoyed engaging with the group. We grappled with some quite complicated questions, but nevertheless it was very worth while.

I also thank the wide range of members, including landlords, factors, surveyors and council officials, who contributed substantial time and effort in analysing, discussing and researching the issues and developing papers. I particularly thank Euan Leitch of the Built Environment Forum Scotland who provided the secretariat.

The fact that it was called a working group is important; the group actually did some serious work on a vitally important area—the governance of tenemental property. Like other members I am sure, I have a regular stream of constituents who have complaints about common repairs and the difficulties of securing on-going maintenance.

Although I no longer own a home, I owned a tenement flat until 1996 and the stress of organising repairs, which involved threats of violence against me by neighbours, led me and five other residents to sell up. I know many other folk who have faced similar situations. When we talk about people’s mental and physical health, the stresses that can arise as a result of living in an environment that is not appropriately governed are real.

The issue is not a new phenomenon. In the past, most of the tenements were owned by landlords and occupied by tenants, so the landlords were responsible for maintenance and there was not such a variety of responsibility. Nevertheless, most of the properties in Glasgow and Edinburgh have been here for a century at least and in some cases more than 200 years. With proper maintenance and refurbishment, they should last many more years, but they have not had that proper maintenance. Although we have systems in place and some improvements have been made—as the minister alluded to—we still face a very challenging situation. In short, Scotland has allowed a major part of its infrastructure to fall into disrepair as the result of a failure to develop the modern governance arrangements that are prevalent in most normal European countries.

As Graham Simpson said—I am sorry, I should have thanked him at the beginning for convening the cross-party working group—the working group made three key recommendations on building inspections, compulsory owners associations and building reserve funds. It also laid out a proposed timetable for delivery.

As Daniel Johnson alluded to, and as I have mentioned before, at the heart of the issue is the fact that we treat domestic property as an exclusively private interest, despite the fact that a third-floor flat enjoys support from the second floor and shelter from above. The lifespans of tenements in the city should be measured in centuries. In that light, such properties are part of the public infrastructure of our cities, just as the streets, the sewers and the utilities are. In that public infrastructure, there are the private interests of the owners and occupiers for the time being. It is their essentially short-term private interests—typically they last for 10 years, or 20 years at most—that too often prevail and have frustrated progress on the issue in the past. Those interests can frustrate the necessity of undertaking regular maintenance.

I would like us to frame the debate clearly as one that concerns the public infrastructure of our urban realm, rather than private property. Let us also agree that owners have responsibilities as well as rights. Those responsibilities need to be laid out well in advance and signposted. In that regard, it is important that we move from the broad agreement of the working group to a high-level political agreement to implement the proposals.

The proposals that are set out in the report have cross-party support. We can build on that and agree a programme of work to deliver them.

Photo of Stuart McMillan Stuart McMillan Scottish National Party

I thank Graham Simpson for chairing the working group, and Ben Macpherson for doing so beforehand.

The work of the group has been a useful exercise and, as others have said, its title as a “working group” was important. I made it to only one of the meetings, but my staff went along to others on my behalf.

In 2007, 48.8 per cent of Inverclyde homes were considered to be flats, and that figure incorporated tenements. Many constituents have come to me with housing issues, and I will touch on one in a moment.

I do not think that every landlord is a bad individual. The vast majority of landlords are good and do a wonderful job, but a small minority unfortunately gives the responsible owners a bad reputation. The working group’s recommendations are important in helping the debate to go forward.

As a society, we need to improve how we educate people, but to do so not in a patronising way. As Daniel Johnson touched on in his speech, people who live in tenements need to appreciate that they have a joint responsibility for all common areas in their building, whether or not they are directly affected by any problems or issues. There was much discussion in the working group about sinking funds, which residents would pay into to ensure that a pot of money was available when repairs were needed. Although I accept—I am sure that others do, too—that that would result in monthly bills being a bit higher, it could certainly guard against people needing to pay a big one-off bill by ensuring that maintenance takes place before emergency repairs are needed, which would cost even more money.

The working group’s report made three recommendations, one of which related to sinking funds. I am pleased that the minister, in his opening speech, indicated that the Scottish Government will consider the report and come back with a full and detailed statement later in the year.

The first recommendation on building inspections is really important, but there will certainly be some challenges. Having inspections every five years is right, but we need to fully consider whether we have enough people who are trained and have the expertise to deliver the checks every five years.

The second recommendation, on the introduction of owners associations for tenements, is very sensible and could help to foster better relationships between neighbours. Andy Wightman touched on that point. I am often contacted by constituents who have strained relationships with their neighbours or are dealing with a neighbour who simply will not engage in repair talks, and I imagine that the introduction of owners associations would force absentee landlords to engage.

I have already mentioned sinking funds. Recently I was contacted by a constituent who is thinking of leaving because of the trouble that they are having with some of their neighbours in their block. A sinking fund would certainly help, but an owners association would help in that situation, too.

I am conscious of the time, so I will just say that I welcome the report and that I am pleased to have played a small part in it. The fact that there is cross-party support indicates the importance with which all the parties in the Parliament treat the issue.

Photo of Gordon Lindhurst Gordon Lindhurst Conservative

As a member of the cross-party working group, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. I begin, as others did, by thanking my colleagues—I will not name them all, because others have already done so—for their excellent work on the vital report.

I thank the minister for citing Grotius, who is a much-neglected source of legal wisdom these days. I do not know what Grotius had to say about subdivided mansions, which Daniel Johnson mentioned, but I am sure that Daniel Johnson can research that for himself at some point.

As someone who represents Edinburgh and the wider Lothian region, I am acutely aware of how many tenements there are in the area. They play a vital part in our history, and not just in relation to our housing needs. In fact, I was thinking about whether I should make a declaration of interests, as I am a dweller in one of these buildings. However, I think that people can simply look up the interests of members who have spoken in this debate in the register of members’ interests—we all have to live somewhere.

Without a shadow of a doubt, many tenements have fallen into a state of disrepair. That is why it is absolutely vital that the recommendations in this report are heeded. Under modern conditions, there is, in my view, no effective mechanism in Scotland to ensure that the maintenance of tenements is carried out, far less to ensure that it is carried out to the appropriate standard. As a result, it is often left up to individuals to sort out the works themselves. Indeed, usually, one proprietor carries the burden of organising them. That applies whether one is living in an Edinburgh tenement of six properties or a block of 16 properties. In either case, it can be extremely hard to get everyone together to agree to works that might be desperately needed. A wide variety of people might live in those flats for different reasons, and many of them are not owners.

My colleague Graham Simpson referred to factoring. That can be an option, but at present there is no legal obligation to have a factor, unless that is set out in the title deeds, and, even if it is, it can prove difficult to enforce such conditions.

With almost 70 per cent of pre-1919 dwellings facing a state of critical disrepair, we are at a crucial point in the life of such tenements. The necessity of introducing a binding system is clear to all.

Compulsory owners associations being set up to help with the essential upkeep and maintenance of these tenements is the solution that has been suggested. Such associations would be able to enter into legal contracts, giving them far greater effectiveness. Being able to sing from the same hymn sheet like a choir, rather than an individual having to take legal responsibility for the whole of what can be very costly and substantial works, would be helpful. Preventing apathetic owners from holding up repairs that might be urgently required is also crucial.

It has been pointed out that the move might not be easy and that it might not happen overnight, but today’s debate heralds an important step forward for thousands of people in Edinburgh and across Scotland. That is why the working group has called on the Scottish Government to take forward plans to enshrine many of the recommendations in law by 2025. It would be helpful if the Government could clarify the timetable that it would like to work to on that issue—I appreciate that the minister made some commitments in his opening statement.

What has happened to many of our vibrant and iconic tenements and dwellings is a crying shame, but it is a real privilege to have been part of this cross-party working group, and I hope that we will be able to continue to change matters for the better by agreement when it comes to housing repairs.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

There is no Latin in my speech, Presiding Officer. If you hear any, it is there by mistake.

First, I thank the members of the working group—Daniel Johnson, Ben Macpherson, Graham Simpson, Andy Wightman and others—for their work. It is quite unusual in this Parliament for there to be such a process outside the committees. I think that that procedure should be adopted, and I say well done to everyone who was involved in it.

The Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004 was a good act, but it clearly needs to be re-examined and reformed. Like other members, I have experience of living in tenement buildings. I lived in one in the west end of Glasgow from 1999 until 2002. Although I loved the large, spacious rooms and the cornices, I did not like so much the dry rot, roof repairs and leaks. However, those are the things that one has to contend with if one lives in a tenement building. Living in a tenement is excellent if one has good neighbours and everyone is on board, but, I have certainly found that that is not always the case and that there is always someone who has difficulty getting involved, which can hold up the whole process of any works.

We cannot ignore this policy issue. Some 24 per cent of Scotland’s housing stock is tenemental, and 29 per cent of that was built before 1919, which represents 7 per cent of all stock. Further, 36 per cent of the buildings in the tenement sector are in critical or urgent need of repair, compared with 24 per cent in other sectors. As the minister says, we cannot ignore the issue, not least in relation to our efforts to tackle global climate change and meet our targets on fuel poverty. To do that, we need to make it simpler and more affordable for owners to improve their properties in the short term and the long term.

I think that it was Gordon Lindhurst and Stuart McMillan who said that many owners do not appreciate the full extent of the repairs that are needed to their property, which could have built up over a long time. I know many owners who have found themselves in that situation, although that may have changed since the introduction of the home report because more information is available. We need to make sure that we do not land the current owner with all the bills resulting from the building falling into disrepair over a lengthy time.

Common repair management is not easy when there is no factor. Getting together with neighbours is, essentially, the way to tackle that. Graham Simpson is right to say that dealing with repairs and how to pay for them can affect people’s mental health, because they may have little experience of dealing with a leaking roof and getting their neighbours to agree to pay up.

There is an issue with windows in tenement properties in conservation areas in the west end of Glasgow. We have not yet found a solution to the problem facing people who need to replace their windows but do not want to spend the fortune that that can cost in a conservation area. I know many owners who would like a scheme to help them to do that.

Absentee owners are a serious barrier to progress, so obligations must be placed on them to ensure that other owners can manage and keep up the maintenance.

On the report’s recommendations, the five-year MOT on buildings seems like a good idea, depending on what that means for the owners in relation to costs. We will need to examine the detail of that. Compulsory residents associations seem to be the only way in which to make the management of tenement buildings easier and more comprehensive. Owners of the individual properties cannot ignore the fact that they share parts of common areas in the building and compulsory residents associations would provide a baseline for that.

I just want to ask—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I am afraid that you cannot. I want to leave time for the statement on transvaginal mesh ; I do not want to eat into that time.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

I am pleased to take part in the debate to mark the launch of this report. As others have said, the subject is difficult and will not be easy to sort, but we need to address it. Many of us and our constituents are living in flats, tenements or four-in-a-block properties that are not being properly maintained and have possibly not been maintained for many years.

In my case, our estate of some 270 flats was built some 60 years ago as part of greater Easterhouse. It had a major refurbishment around 1989, with whole floors removed and entirely new roofs put on. However, that was 30 years ago—I have lived there for 29 years—and in most cases the roofs have not been inspected during that time.

Routine maintenance has not been carried out, not even gutter cleaning, and we can see the whole estate gradually deteriorating. We have factors in place and I have no complaint against them, but their hands are tied if the owners do not pay for maintenance. I have constituents who live in much worse conditions in much older properties.

There is also a safety angle to the matter, with the possibility of stone or slates falling off roofs, as Daniel Johnson graphically described, not to mention electrical dangers and the possibility of fires, as Electrical Safety First reminded us in its briefing.

On the other hand, there are tenement properties in very good condition, including modern, post-war and older sandstone stock. That is often because they are owned by housing associations that take part of the rent each month and set it aside for planned and cyclical maintenance. When painting, gutter cleaning or even a new roof is required, there is a fund sitting there ready and available.

My question is: can we learn from what happens in housing associations and come up with a system that will work for all flat owners? It seems to me that that is what the report is suggesting with its three proposals: building inspections, owners associations and reserve funds. That will be good not only for individual owners and their families; it is a national problem and we need a national solution.

Much of our housing stock has been there for 100 years, as Andy Wightman said, and there is really no reason why it cannot be there for another 100 years. It is a national asset, and it gives our towns and cities their distinctive character.

As I said, this is not an easy subject. The problem impacts on not just individuals but the whole country. Taking measures might well not be popular, especially if owners have to put aside money for maintenance each month. The reality is that that will cut into spending on other things, be they holidays, new furniture or whatever.

There is a valid question about what happens to people who have no available cash to save. That is a challenge. However, a fair proportion of people—some people say 80 per cent—could afford to maintain their buildings but just need a better and simpler system for doing so. If we can bring in that better system for those people, we can consider what extra help the minority will need.

That is certainly the case in my constituency, which, although it has a lot of high-quality properties, has many properties that are worth less than £100,000 and some that are not worth anything at all.

Grants will have to continue to play a part. We must also consider imaginative solutions, such as interest-free loans that are repayable only when a property is sold.

For today, we are focusing on a better system. Other countries have put in place the kind of measures that we are suggesting, such as building inspections, owners associations and reserve funds.

I thank the people who did the real work for the report. I am pleased to associate myself with it and to support its recommendations.

Photo of Annie Wells Annie Wells Conservative

It will come as no surprise to members that I am speaking in today’s debate on tenement maintenance, given that I am a member for Glasgow.

Glasgow is famed for its tenements. They have been part of the fabric of the city since the 19th century. To live in one is to be immersed in Glasgow’s rich history.

It is amazing that around 73 per cent of Glaswegians live in a flat of some description, compared with a proportion of less than 25 per cent in comparable cities in England and Wales.

Therefore, the importance of the debate cannot be underestimated. For that reason, I put on record my thanks to the working group for all the hard work that it put into highlighting the issue.

We have known for some time the problems that Glasgow’s tenements face. A report last year from Glasgow City Council revealed that thousands of closes are in critical disrepair. It was estimated that around 46,000 tenement flats that were built before 1919 are dangerous and require major, structural weather-tightness and restoration work.

The cost of the work is estimated to be just under £3 billion, which is a substantial figure. The concerning point is that that is needed just for Glasgow’s tenements. Across Scotland, there are nearly 600,000 tenement properties, which make up 24 per cent of the total housing stock. It is alarming that 68 per cent of all dwellings have some degree of disrepair, however minor it might be.

In Glasgow, the main areas of concern are Govanhill, Ibrox, Cessnock, east Pollokshields, Strathbungo, Haghill and Dennistoun. I understand that the council is carrying out condition surveys of around 500 pre-1919 tenement properties across the city and will publish another report in November. I hope that that will kick-start a longer-term plan for the city.

Meanwhile, the working group on tenement maintenance, which was set up last year, has made a number of recommendations. As we heard, the Scottish Government can action those recommendations and I hope that it does so. I welcome the minister’s commitment to return to the Parliament later in the year with his response.

Individuals are currently left to themselves to sort out the work, so we are seeing tenements left to deteriorate beyond repair, on a mass scale.

As we heard, the working group called for regular building inspections every five years and a publicly available report, to enable existing and prospective owners and tenants to know what condition a building is in and what future expenditure might be expected.

The working group called for the establishment of compulsory owners associations, to provide leadership and effective decision making and to enable groups to enter into contracts with building professionals. It also called for the establishment of building reserve funds, held centrally, with guidelines on how much needs to be contributed, depending on the building’s age and type.

The Scottish Conservatives support all those recommendations and the working group’s call for legislation to be introduced in the Parliament by 2025, to enshrine in law the responsibilities for tenement maintenance.

The Scottish Government needs to take decisive action to protect our built environment and to take forward the working group’s recommendations.

Three years ago, during my first tour of the Scottish Parliament, I was told that the MSPs had their offices in a building that, through its architecture, represented a tenement building. It is therefore ironic that we have buried our heads in the sand for so long when it comes to addressing the scale of the problem. If we are serious about bringing tenement buildings across Scotland back into liveable conditions, we must implement the working group’s recommendations. If we do not give the issue urgent attention, we will let down the thousands of people whom the problem affects.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I, too, am pleased to be taking part in the debate, as someone who has attended all the meetings of the working group on tenement maintenance since September last year, when I became eligible to join it, although I understand that the meetings started in March. I have been very impressed by the talent and experience of the professional members of the group and by the fact that the folk on sub-groups have progressed different strands of work quickly, effectively and efficiently. I, too, would like to thank Euan Leitch of Built Environment Forum Scotland for providing the secretariat. I would also like to thank the academics, including Douglas Robertson, for their input, and Graham Simpson, for the way in which he has chivvied along the work.

I joined the group because I love the wonderful granite tenements in my constituency and that of the minister, which look absolutely majestic in the sun but deeply grey in the rain, and which—inside and out—are in need of a great deal of TLC. It is not only those buildings that require attention; more recent council housing—and the properties that have been sold on—does, too. A large part of the 900,000 households across Scotland that fall under the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004 occupy such buildings.

Those homes fall under various types of ownership. As well as those that are owned by the council, there are those that have owner-occupiers, long-term tenants and—sometimes—very absent landlords. As we know, it is very difficult to get agreement on doing repairs. It is also the case that many people who purchase a house do not remember that, as well as having to allow for mortgage payments, they will be required to maintain their property. Sometimes, lawyers or selling agents can be remiss in failing to tell people what is involved in buying particular properties.

In common with other MSPs, I have had a fair number of cases involving constituents—whether home owners or tenants in private or council-owned properties—whose homes have required major repair. Despite the availability of the missing share mechanism, some councils have not been as good as others in using it. I hope that many councils will learn from the City of Edinburgh Council on how things should be done in that regard.

In many cases, private owners have legitimate serious concerns about what the council says that work will cost, which can be much higher than estimates that the owners have obtained for the work. That is why owners’ associations are extremely important. I hope that, when we get down to the detail of those, we will ensure that they include all the residents in a building, including the tenants, if they wish to be involved. If all the residents feel some responsibility to maintain the block in good order, that will avoid the building falling into disrepair.

I think that owners’ associations should become a given in new blocks and that they should have sinking funds. That way, people will begin to see the benefits of having such associations with sinking funds. People in other areas will see that owners coming together on a voluntary basis—as might happen in areas such as those that Daniel Johnson mentioned or in the new town—is infinitely preferable to compulsory factoring, which can be especially fraught. I know of several instances in which compulsory factoring has been fraught, especially in relation to ground maintenance.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You must end there—thank you.

I call Daniel Johnson to close for Labour.

Photo of Daniel Johnson Daniel Johnson Labour

There have been a great number of speeches, and it is notable how much agreement there has been in the chamber. I do not propose to rehearse any of the arguments, but I will emphasise for the minister what I think the key points are, bearing in mind his statement planned for the autumn.

There are three simple propositions behind what we are discussing: that we should check our buildings, that we should provide owners in common with a mechanism for making agreements and coming to co-decisions, and that the people who co-own buildings should save together. Those are three simple ideas, but they are vitally important ones for maintaining our housing stock in this country.

I believe that the key issue is getting that going. I believe that, once we establish the mechanisms and set the expectation for those who own tenemented property—saying, “This is what we expect”—that will reinforce itself, the culture will change, expectations will change and things will simply happen. The question is how we get things going.

On the first point, that of building checks, we now have a system in place involving home reports. People expect to see a home report when they buy a house. I think that the same thing will become true of the tenement building check—the so-called building MOT. People will simply not be prepared to buy a tenemented property if that check is not in place. I think that, if we can establish that, it will take hold.

Likewise with owners’ associations. That is possibly the most difficult bit, but there is the expectation that they will be put in place. The Government will need to give some thought to how to make it easy for owners’ associations to be set up, whether that involves off-the-shelf articles of incorporation or publicity schemes to promote the use of such associations. Ultimately, when building works need done, if those mechanisms are available and on the shelf, the co-owners of buildings will reach for them, because that will make their decisions easy.

Likewise with sinking funds. I think that we will need to make them mandatory, and that will be difficult, but the missing shares scheme points to how that could be made to work. If such arrangements are not in place and the funds are claimed back at the point of sale, that will not be popular, but it will make things work.

There are examples from elsewhere in the world where such arrangements have been made to work—where such systems or mechanisms have been put in place—such as in Ireland, where multi-user developments were introduced in 2011 and sinking funds were established using a simple €200 per annum fee, just to get them going.

Those are the sorts of things that we will need to consider in Scotland. I think that we can, and indeed we must, as we have been here before. The Labour and Liberal Democrat Administration consulted on the self-same proposals back in 2003, but decided that they were too difficult. I do not think that we can come to that conclusion this time. Yes, it is difficult, but I urge the Government to have courage. I think that we need to, in order to preserve our housing stock.

I urge the other parties to join the consensus. If we make this policy something of common and collective interest—it is something that we recognise as difficult, so we must stand shoulder to shoulder—we will make it happen, and our housing stock will be the better for it.

Photo of Jeremy Balfour Jeremy Balfour Conservative

I thank the Government and the minister for making time for the debate, and I am grateful for all the contributions that have come from across the chamber.

The Scottish parliamentary working group on tenement maintenance, on which I have been proud to serve as a member, was formed in March 2018. It set out to find common themes on how to improve legislation in this area. Remarkably, we did find common themes that had cross-party support and, which is perhaps even more important, had support from the experts in the field.

That is the strength of the working group’s report, as others have mentioned. We have not only cross-party support from four of the five parties—we are not quite sure where the Lib Dems are, but hopefully they will appear at some point—but, more importantly, buy-in from the professionals and from local authorities.

I, too, thank Ben Macpherson for bringing about the debate that took place a couple of years ago. The reason why I took part in that debate involved my rather troubled experience as a councillor in Edinburgh. I was pleased that Maureen Watt, I think, said what a good model Edinburgh had. If she had come here a few years ago, she might not have had quite the same experience. The local authority went through quite a difficult time with regard to how to deal with tenements, but the council learned from that experience and it has shown that we can move forward together. We need to work on that.

Everyone has mentioned the three recommendations. To save time, I will not go through them again. John Mason was right when he said that the difficulty will not be in agreeing principles but in how we implement the proposals in practice. I think that Daniel Johnson and others also picked up on that point. That will be the challenge for the minister and the Government when they come back in the autumn. We can agree on terminology and principles but, when it comes down to how we actually implement the proposals and the amount of money that will be involved, we will have to work closely together. Beyond that, there is the question of how we can sell the proposals to our constituents, because, as has been pointed out by other members, they will have to pay extra.

It is important to make the point that Graham Simpson started with. This is an issue not just for Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow but for lots of cities and towns throughout Scotland, because tenements were built not only 100 years ago but in the post-war period and even in more recent times. We have to consider what we are going to do with tenements that are being built today. I know that many people now have factors, and I think that that is the way forward. We perhaps need to think further about how we encourage—or even, perhaps, force—owners to have some kind of factoring service in their block.

I again thank all those who have done the hard work. I pay particular tribute to Ben Macpherson and Graham Simpson, who chaired the meetings.

We have set ourselves a target of 2025, which is the date by which we want the proposals to be implemented. That might seem a long way away, but the hard work starts now. I know that members on this side of the chamber and, I am sure, across the chamber, look forward to hearing not only the minister’s summing-up speech today but also, more importantly, what he will say in the autumn.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Kevin Stewart to close for the Government.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

How long have I got, Presiding Officer?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I am grateful to all the members who have taken part in today’s debate. The common ground on the points at issue is reflected in the joint motion and the consensus that has been displayed this afternoon on all the main points.

Many issues have been raised. We must get the definition of “a tenement block” absolutely right, because, as Jeremy Balfour said, we are talking not only about the blocks that were built at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century but ones that are being constructed today. According to the 2004 act, a tenement is

“a building ... which comprises two related flats which, or more than two such flats at least two of which ... are, or are designed to be, in separate ownership; and ... are divided from each other horizontally”.

That might include subdivided mansions, although I say to Daniel Johnson that not many of those exist in my constituency.

I know, from my casework, the problems that can be caused as a result of common ownership. It can be frustrating for owners who accept their responsibilities and are keen to get things done to find that others in their block are not so keen to do that. Members including Pauline McNeill and Andy Wightman have said that those things often lead to mental health problems, so the issue is not just the cost of doing the necessary work but the human cost of not doing the work. Time and again, I have come across people being worn down by the fact that they cannot get traction when dealing with a difficulty.

We all agree that we want to preserve our tenements for the future and on the scale of the task that is involved, but there will always be disagreements on the detail and timing of how we progress. Mr Lindhurst asked me about timing, but I am not going to give an answer; I will give that substantive response in the autumn, as I have said. It would be wrong for any of us to lay out a timetable or say exactly how we will move forward, because we may have to do some of the work incrementally. We need to look at what changes will be required in secondary legislation and regulation or in primary legislation, for which it is always difficult to give timescales. Some folk now seem to think that that is a statement, but it is not agreed with the Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans, so I may have to go back and have that conversation with him.

There are existing powers to help folks out there. I was frustrated with Aberdeen City Council’s non-use of missing share powers, but the situation has changed and it now uses them, which is a great relief to me and my constituents. As I said before, I want to hear from members if they are finding difficulties in their patches in case I can be helpful and cajole some councils to move forward.

I have spoken previously about schemes that exist to help folk, including the equity share scheme that we are piloting in a number of local authority areas. I am keen to roll that scheme out across the country, which could make a difference by helping folk to access the finance that they need to make repairs to their properties.

Mr Wightman said that we are grappling with complex questions here, and that is very fair. The issue is extremely complex, and, as Mr Johnson pointed out, it is one that Parliament has looked at previously but copped out on. None of us can afford to do what was done in the early 2000s; some of the issues may take a bit of time—10, 15 or 20 years—to get right, but the working group’s work and the responses show that we cannot ignore this.

We will explain exactly how we will move forward, and there may be disagreement around some of the particulars of that. However, we cannot ignore the issue, and I hope that we can continue with the consensus that we have seen today as we move forward.