Meeting date: Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Meeting of the Parliament 09 January 2018
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, National Health Service (Winter Pressures), Article 50 Withdrawal Process, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Tenement Communal Property (Maintenance)
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- Topical Question Time
- National Health Service (Winter Pressures)
- Article 50 Withdrawal Process
- Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Tenement Communal Property (Maintenance)
Tenement Communal Property (Maintenance)
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-08354, in the name of Ben Macpherson, on maintenance of tenement communal property. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament recognises that a significant proportion of people in Edinburgh and across Scotland live in tenement buildings; believes that the maintenance of communal property, otherwise known as the common parts or “Scheme Property” as defined in the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004, in tenements is essential to the upkeep of the buildings and the standard of living for owner occupiers and tenants; understands with concern that, in many cases, such Scheme Property is in a state of disrepair, degradation or deterioration; believes that current legislation is not consistently fulfilling its intention to encourage owners to establish effective arrangements for managing communal repairs and undertaking maintenance; acknowledges the various potential solutions put forward by groups and individuals in the housing sector to help address this issue, and notes the view that, for the wellbeing of owner occupiers and tenants and to sustain and enhance the country’s urban infrastructure and environments, the government should review the situation and consider any legislative changes, new initiatives, enhanced use of existing rules and/or further action by local authorities that could facilitate improved upkeep of Scheme Property.17:19
I thank colleagues for their cross-party support for the motion on maintenance of tenement communal property, and for attending the debate on this pertinent issue. Before I proceed, I declare an interest as an owner-occupier of a tenement flat.
For the benefit of all our constituents, MSPs must all work to help to enhance and improve Scotland’s existing housing stock and the integrity of our built heritage. A major aspect of the shared responsibility is maintenance of Scotland’s tenements. There are well over half a million tenement properties in Scotland. They make up 24 per cent of its domestic housing property, including hundreds in our capital city, in our other big cities—Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee—and in other places including Kilmarnock, Cumnock and Irvine.
As people who live in tenements know, every day is affected by the building’s integrity and by the quality of communal property that is shared among neighbours. Is there a decent lock on the door for security and to keep the wind at bay, or can anyone just walk in? Is the stair clean, well presented and properly lit, or is it messy, covered in graffiti, unpleasant and dark? Is the back green kept well for enjoying with friends and family, or is it a dumping ground for fly-tippers?
For people who live in tenements—as do hundreds of my constituents and hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland—maintenance of communal property is important not only for enhancing their quality of life and for issues to do with wellbeing; it is also, of course, essential for securing the infrastructure of the buildings and for preserving and improving our shared urban environment. Roof repairs, masonry work, drainage and energy efficiency measures are all vital in ensuring that tenement buildings are safe, habitable and sustainable in the short, medium and long terms. Those things are important not just for people who live in or who own tenements, but for all of us who care about the integrity and security of our major cities and our urban communities.
It is clear—from what we hear from constituents at advice surgeries about issues with their tenements, from visiting people whom we know who live in tenements, and from listening to MSPs or stakeholders—that poor maintenance of buildings that are in common ownership is prevalent throughout Scotland. That is the case irrespective of location or of whether third-party management arrangements—factors, as they are more commonly known—are in place. It is a national problem that requires national and local solutions.
It is also clear that, in many instances, the measures that we currently have in place to maintain tenement buildings are not working as effectively or as comprehensively as they need to work. Short-term ownership of tenements can result in there being little or no interest in the upkeep of common areas, and absentee landlords are often indifferent to maintenance. We need measures to push owners to change their mentalities in respect of maintenance, and we need to establish new practices for shared repairs.
The Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004, although it is good legislation, is not consistently fulfilling its stated intention—namely, to encourage owners to establish effective arrangements for managing communal repairs and undertaking maintenance. The act was recently usefully amended by the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 to allow local authorities to pay and then to recover missing shares of costs that are incurred through decisions that have been made under the tenement management scheme in the 2004 act. That is welcome and helpful and it is making a difference, as is the Scottish Government’s under one roof website initiative.
However, despite that meaningful progress, there is still much more work to do to facilitate, to encourage and, if necessary, to enforce adequate tenement maintenance consistently in communities across Scotland. The motion and the debate are about taking forward collective work on a cross-party basis, constructively with the Scottish Government and collaboratively with stakeholders.
Tenement maintenance is a very complex area of law and policy, in which there are overlaps between the primary legislation, private housing deeds and factoring arrangements. More action is needed. Where there is a will, there is a way. With our cross-party interest and engagement from industry bodies including the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the Built Environment Forum Scotland and groups of architects and other relevant professionals and academics, there is growing momentum in the housing sector to make progress on this increasingly important issue.
New ideas include several possible initiatives. We could, for example, establish compulsory factoring, although factoring has its problems despite the Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011. We could use the proposed warm homes bill to create new maintenance obligations that are associated with energy efficiency. We could allocate more funding for repairs, as happened in the 1980s, or we could collaborate on new solutions with financial organisations such as credit unions.
We could require owners to pay into sinking funds and we could press the UK Government to provide VAT relief on repairs. We could insist on routine inspections for residential properties, like the inspections that the Health and Safety Executive undertakes in workplaces, or we could create legal obligations such that trained professionals must undertake housing checks regularly, perhaps every five years, as the RICS has proposed, thereby creating an enforceable tenement health check that would be similar to MOTs for cars and which could be linked to home reports.
Whether we use the carrot or the stick—voluntary or obligatory mechanisms—we need to go further to motivate, to enable and, if necessary, to compel owners to take more responsibility for their tenement buildings, because too many owners are simply not diligent enough or proactive enough. We need to make it easier for owners to come together to instruct works because, at the moment, that does not happen expediently enough.
I thank Ben Macpherson for his speech and agree with all the points that he is making. I will add two other suggestions. First, we should make it easier for owners to identify the other home owners in a tenement close and, secondly, we should give more relaxed powers of compulsory purchase to local authorities and housing associations.
I acknowledge those points.
I have met the Minister for Local Government and Housing on the issues, and am grateful to know that he is open minded about considering them on an on-going basis. Therefore, I ask the Scottish Government to explore comprehensively all the possibilities for further action to improve tenement maintenance, including the ideas that have been mentioned. I would be grateful if the minister could respond to that request in his closing speech or thereafter in writing. I, other MSPs and stakeholders are in agreement about setting up a working group to do whatever we can to help to support such a Government review and any resultant action. I hope that, together, we can produce a robust report, a set of collective determinations and a robust set of ambitions and strategies similar to those that the Scottish Executive produced in the early part of the century, and that we will be able to build on the report’s findings. I strongly believe that, working collaboratively, the Scottish Government, Opposition parties, local government and wider society can and should make the difference to ensure that everyone in Scotland has a safe, warm and high-quality place to call home.17:28
I thank Ben Macpherson for securing this important debate and for his considered contribution. I suspect that we will all agree on the subject, because there is cross-party consensus on the need to act. There can be nothing more important than having a roof over our heads; nothing more important than having warm, comfortable, well-maintained housing—a place to call home. It affects our physical and mental wellbeing. Good housing is a good society.
The focus of our housing debate in Scotland has been the delivery of new homes. That is understandable, but we do not hear as much about the homes that already exist. By 2050, 80 per cent of our current homes will still be in use. It is good to build new homes but, if the current stock falls into disrepair, all that good work could be undone.
In Scotland, a quarter of all domestic dwellings—579,000—are tenements and 38 per cent of those are pre-1919 buildings. In fact, one home in five is a pre-1919 building. According to the Scottish house condition survey of 2016, 6 per cent of all properties have extensive disrepair, 28 per cent have urgent disrepair and 48 per cent have disrepair to critical elements. Five per cent of pre-1919 properties have critical, urgent and extensive disrepair.
Newer properties need work, too. I live in East Kilbride—you know it well, Presiding Officer. Many of the homes there were built around the same time—70 years ago—and, together, will be reaching the end of their useful lives unless something is done. We are fast reaching a condition cliff edge and, if we do not act, we are going to face a crisis.
It is true that owners of tenements are responsible for their own buildings. It is also true that councils have powers to get work done. I had a look to see whether those powers were being used. I asked all of Scotland’s councils how often they had used the powers to issue maintenance orders, work orders or even closing orders in the past five years. Seventeen councils have not issued a single work notice, 30 of the 32 councils have never issued a maintenance order and 18 have not used closing orders. In some years, including last year, as many as 25 councils did not issue work notices, which are the most favoured of their powers.
There are exceptions. Aberdeen, Argyll and Bute, and South Lanarkshire have made consistent use of the powers, but on a small scale. Edinburgh has its own scheme. Glasgow issued 1,300 work notices over five years. Therefore, apart from by a handful of councils, the powers that councils have are not being used. That begs the question: why not and what is to be done?
I followed up my survey by writing to all councils. I am still collating the results and I will release a detailed analysis very soon, but it is clear that councils do not have the money or the time to make use of the powers that they have. They do not want to risk not being able to get the money back if they pay for the work to be done.
The RICS has called for regular tenement health checks, and I back that. It is also surely right that we take a further look at existing legislation and ask whether it is fit for purpose. I am also sympathetic to calls for factors to be made mandatory.
Our aim must be to ensure that the standard of Scotland’s homes is improved. We need a system that finally delivers, and that is why a cross-party working group will be set up immediately after this debate to look at the issue in detail and to advise and help Government. I will play my part in that, and I know that others, such as Ben Macpherson, will too. I look forward to collectively finding solutions.17:32
I thank Ben Macpherson for securing this debate, which is on a matter of importance to my constituency of Glasgow Kelvin, which has a high concentration of tenement housing, some old and some new. I must admit that I am a tenement dweller.
There can be a mix of tenures and tenancies in this type of building. Other issues, some of which have been raised by members, include absentee landlords, the cost of maintenance, the need to encourage those who do not have a vested interest in the property to think about repairs in the long term and the impact on housing stock when buildings fall into disrepair or are damaged. I know that there are not as many factors in Edinburgh as there are in Glasgow, where they are more widely used, but we need to look at the issue of factors, too.
I want to consider the actions that I have seen being taken. The Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011 have already been mentioned. There is also the Scottish Government’s under one roof website, which provides good detailed advice for homeowners on the maintenance and repair of tenement buildings. Further, consultation is under way on the draft revised code of conduct for property factors. That consultation closes on 15 January, and I encourage members to publicise it on Twitter or on their websites—I did so today—in order to get people to take part in it.
As I said, my constituency has a great deal of tenement buildings, with properties that are rented out by absentee landlords, properties that are registered as houses in multiple occupation and socially rented properties. Those buildings can bring pleasure but also problems, as others have mentioned.
I will talk about an issue with a tenement just off Dumbarton Road in my constituency. The residents of the building have been out of their homes since August 2016, because part of the building collapsed. There is a big problem to do with getting money, and the building is factored. There are 13 residents and a restaurant at ground level. Money has been collected from the 13 residents, but the restaurant owner has refused to pay their share. Those people cannot get into their homes, even though every one of them has managed to get the money. That is why we need to look at the legislation to see whether it is enforceable.
The issue is not unique in my constituency. It is something that happens all the time. We have tried everything that we can, including speaking to Glasgow City Council. I spoke to the council today and it is in talks, so I hope that eventually some arrangement is arrived at. The council told me that it tries to encourage owners to take responsibility for the condition of properties. It offers grant assistance, which is awarded on the proviso that a building is factored, which is fine. However, although the building that I am talking about is factored, the residents still cannot get the grant. That should be looked at.
There are powers to carry out the statutory works, but using them is considered as a last resort and is subject to the availability of resources.
We need to look at what is happening not just in private tenement properties but in factored properties. Sometimes factors do not live up to expectations or do what they are supposed to do.
Glasgow City Council told me today that it will undertake a housing conditions survey in the next financial year. It will look at pre-1919 tenement stock in particular to see whether it can do something about the condition of such buildings, particularly if they are subject to negative equity.
I call on the Scottish Government to listen to people such as my constituents, and others who are not living in their own homes. There is still a lot of work to do.17:36
I, too, thank the member for bringing forward the debate. It is telling that the issue does not just bring members of different parties together—we are even hearing agreement between MSPs from Edinburgh and MSPs from Glasgow. There is no greater testament to the importance of the issue than that.
Tenemental living is distinctive of urban life in Scotland. Tenements reflect the way that we developed our cities. We tended to build up rather than out; whereas other cities built terraced housing, in Scotland we built tenements. I think that that leads to better cities. It means that our cities are higher density, which leads to a better urban environment. In an age when we think about the environment, it also means that we have more efficient cities.
Maintenance has always been an issue, for the fundamental reason that although individual flats are owned as individual bits of property, there are multiple owners of but one building. In a sense there is a single bit of property, which is not always captured by the law as effectively as it needs to be. That is why this debate is so important. We have to make it easier and more straightforward to maintain our tenemented buildings.
We must also acknowledge that the issue has evolved, because we are no longer talking only about Victorian tenements. A large number of tenements built by local authorities now have multiple tenures all within a single block, whether they are owner-occupiers, council tenants or private tenants. That makes the issue yet more complicated. We need to acknowledge the wider issues of maintaining a common building, as well as the different types of tenures and the issues that arise from that.
There are three core issues that we need to look at when we are addressing the issue. The first is one that other members have mentioned, which is co-ordination and shared responsibility among different owners in a tenement building. We need to look at how we can ensure that that shared responsibility is honoured by all owners. We need to facilitate decision making, because that is often where these things fall down. Collective decision making is difficult. People must honour the need for collective maintenance, which, at the moment, tends to require unanimity. We need to look at the structures and mechanisms that are in place.
The second key issue is one of financing. When we are talking about maintenance of these buildings, we are often talking about very large sums. We have all heard the horror stories from our mail bags and case work about roof repairs and the sums that can be involved. Connected to the sums of money is the unwillingness of contractors to undertake work because of the nature of the collective undertaking. They will start work only once they have been paid in full by each and every one of the owners of the building. As we all know, it is never a good idea to pay a builder up front, so we need to have a look at the mechanisms that we put in place for the financing of such work.
The third key issue is redress. We must ensure that, where people have an obligation and a responsibility for their share of maintenance and for undertaking works, owners are able to get money back when relationships break down.
I am pleased that there is a group of us in this Parliament seeking to form a cross-party group to look at those issues and to work with the Scottish Government, so that we can consider options for improving the situation. There are a number of solutions, as members have mentioned, such as sinking funds and ownership registration, to make it easier to form stair committees. Those are all good solutions and should all be considered. Likewise, there may be non-governmental solutions, or non-legislative but governmental solutions, but we also need to look at whether new legislation is required, perhaps to alter title deeds or to make some requirements, such as having a stair committee, obligatory. By working together we can come up with a manifesto—a blueprint—for what needs to change, so that we can make tenement living better and ensure that we maintain our tenemented buildings.17:41
I start by thanking Ben Macpherson for bringing this important subject to the Parliament for debate. Over a third of the population of Scotland lives in tenements or purpose-built blocks of flats. That proportion is much higher in our cities, reaching almost 70 per cent in Glasgow. My constituency of Glasgow Provan contains a significant number of such properties. Like many people in Scotland, I have lived much of my life in tenements and as a tenement owner—I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests—I have a genuine appreciation and fondness for the blend of privacy and community that tenement life affords.
However, flats and tenement-style housing give rise to issues that need to be dealt with, so that we can protect the integrity of that type of living for future generations. I understand why the focus of the debate in parts of the country—Edinburgh, for example—is on the lack of a much-needed mechanism for ensuring collective oversight of maintenance and use of buildings and the very real problems that that lack causes, but I would caution people to be careful what they wish for, based on the experience in Glasgow, where property factors are common but where the market has often proven incapable of meeting those needs in a satisfactory manner.
Unsatisfactory factors feature regularly in the cases that constituents bring to my office, and horror stories abound. Top of the list is the high cost of repairs, and constituents are often suspicious of questionable links between contractors and factors. There are litanies of defects that have been reported and repairs that have been requested being ignored, to the detriment of housing stock. There is a lack of action when householders complain, and obfuscation on the part of factors leading to confusion among householders regarding their rights and responsibilities. Communal insurance policies are imposed on householders at costs that are demonstrably many times the market rate, and soaring service charges often bear no relation to the cost of living or to the quality or quantity of services received. All of that is compounded by a lack of consultation, accountability and transparency and by the fact that many householders are a captive audience, locked in by title deeds that make it very difficult, or in effect impossible, to change factors—even non-performing factors.
Despite what the member says, will he accept that, when there is no factor at all, the situation is even worse and repairs just do not get done?
I absolutely accept that. I am just laying out the next stage in the process by stating that simply having a factor in place is not the answer to everything, and that there could still be many, many problems in a factored environment.
Many householders do not even bother changing factors and are hostages to fortune. Many others find that it is merely Hobson’s choice—more of the same, with little to choose between different agents. No wonder factoring is often described as a licence to print money.
Factors were first regulated by law in Scotland in 2012 and the Scottish Government’s current consultation on a draft revised code of conduct for registered property factors aims to strengthen and clarify matters. That is a very welcome step. In tandem with that, I would like to offer some thoughts on how the situation could be improved.
We need to acknowledge that, as a widespread rule, householders are vastly underserved by factors and that, left to the market, the system is failing.
Initiatives such as the under one roof website, which has already been mentioned, need to be promoted to improve awareness among householders about rights and responsibilities, including legal ones, associated with arrangements pertaining to the property in which they live. Where disagreements arise, householders need assistance with interpreting and cross-referencing the relevant legislation so that they are not bamboozled by unscrupulous factors. The closure of loopholes in deeds of conditions to ensure that factors and developers are not able to prevent a majority of owners from dismissing the current factor and appointing an alternative is long overdue. A basic qualification in factoring administration, and specialist training where appropriate, should be mandatory. Crucially, individual company accreditation with an independent body should be a condition of trading, bringing with it requirements to undergo external audits. Some thought should also be given to an oversight body conducting an annual factoring survey.
In conclusion, I look forward to the outcome of the Scottish Government’s consultation and hope that it will provide improvements to legislation that will ensure a fair deal for householders, allowing them to enjoy the advantages of flatted and tenement living without the tribulations caused by rip-off factors, and will ensure that the integrity and quality of this very valuable housing stock are protected for future generations17:46
I thank Ben Macpherson for bringing this debate. It is on a topic in which I have a long-standing personal interest and that the Scottish Greens agree needs urgent action.
As Graham Simpson pointed out, 48 per cent of domestic properties have disrepair to critical elements. With a rising proportion of people living in private rented accommodation, it is notable that 63 per cent of private rented sector accommodation is flatted. That is one of the reasons why, in our 2016 manifesto, we advocated a not-for-profit repair service to manage major repairs, and new financial mechanisms for paying for them, including sinking funds, which Ben Macpherson referred to, and deferral of payments until houses are sold.
Unlike other members, I have no interest in property: I do not own any. That is partly because of my personal experience in the early 1990s, when I tried to organise common repairs in a top-floor flat that was leaking. It cost us £5,000 per flat. On a number of occasions, I was threatened with assault by one of the neighbours, for having had the temerity to initiate such action. Once the work was complete, we were told by the architect that we were liable for another £10,000-worth of work per property, so five out of eight of us owners sold up. Of course, we did not tell the new owners, who were blithely unaware that the property was falling down. Despite feeling quite guilty about that, I think that it is an indictment of the way in which we manage tenement property.
There is an urgent need to improve the legal and financial framework under which common property is maintained. I thank all those who have contacted us, such as BEFS, the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland and RICS.
The problem is not new. On a recent visit to Edinburgh city chambers, I went into a room with a sign that said, “Do not enter”. In that small, dark room I found cabinets of index cards, all noting inspections that had been carried out by the council of tenement property across the city, street by street, up until the early 1980s. So, while I do not know what it was, we used to have a system in place that provided some sort of health check. However, it is clear that the current legal framework is not sufficient to ensure that existing communal property is maintained in the way that it should be. As members have pointed out, that is not only bad for the future of our housing stock, but causes real misery, anxiety and stress to occupiers and owners of flatted property who take their responsibilities seriously, as constituents regularly tell us.
It is clear that we need reform, but, as with many reforms on domestic property, it feels as though the Government is nervous about anything that places what it perceives to be a greater burden on homeowners and landlords. That is a fundamental problem in securing consensus on how to resolve such questions and it is based on a flawed premise.
Much of the flatted property here in Edinburgh and in Glasgow was built more than a century ago, and in the old and new towns more than 200 years ago. With proper maintenance and refurbishment, such buildings should last many more centuries. In that light, such properties are part of the public infrastructure of our cities, just as the streets, sewers and utilities are. Within that public infrastructure, there are temporary private interests, which are those of the owners and occupiers for the time being of the homes concerned. It is their essentially short-term interests, of typically 10 to 20 years, that too often prevail and frustrate the necessity to undertake the longer-term maintenance that can ensure the long-term good condition of shared property. So let us frame this debate as one concerning public infrastructure in the first instance, rather than private property.
I am persuaded by the argument of RICS, BEFS, RIAS and others that urgent reform is necessary. That has to include new legislation. It is vital that such legislation be designed to incentivise regular maintenance, but it must also contain mandatory provisions that compel owners of common property to contribute to that, as some might be unwilling to do so. That could involve sinking funds and log books, for example, so that we are assured that people who live in the property in the future will live in a property that meets basic standards of repair.
I would be very happy to work with Ben Macpherson and other members as part of the MSP working group that Ben Macpherson has initiated and to engage with others in developing the case for and the content of the reforms that we need.17:50
This debate is on a very important matter that affects thousands of residents in buildings in Edinburgh and the Lothians region alone, not to mention the rest of Scotland.
Like Ben Macpherson, who has brought the debate to Parliament, I have to declare an interest as an owner-occupier of a tenement flat in Edinburgh. I refer members to my register of interests. I do not know whether I need to declare as an interest that I have been the owner of a flat in Edinburgh that was very successfully repaired under a common repairs scheme that was run by the City of Edinburgh Council. I had a more positive experience of that than Andy Wightman, sadly, appears to have had in his situation and circumstance. Sadly, that statutory notice scheme is no longer run by the City of Edinburgh Council; it was ultimately scrapped for reasons that many members will be aware of. However, there have been times in Edinburgh and Scotland when there have been effective schemes to look after our buildings.
The debate about tenement repairs is, of course, critical to Edinburgh in particular—perhaps more so than to some other towns and cities. The most recently published Scottish housing condition survey tells us that, in Edinburgh, 48 per cent of properties were built pre-1945, 56 per cent of which are flats. Fifty-seven per cent of the tenure across the capital is, of course, owner-occupied.
We are incredibly fortunate in Scotland and Edinburgh to have the stone-built heritage that we have. However, the reality behind it all—behind the facade that we see—is that many buildings are badly in need of repair, some critically so. As has been pointed out, that is a Scotland-wide problem, particularly with some very old housing stock. That is a picture of a pressing problem now rather than later.
It may be that, at some point in the past, owners took their responsibilities more immediately seriously than owners do now. I recall that, less than 20 years ago, one of the estates that built an entire section of Edinburgh’s Victorian tenements still retained a flat in the city centre that was used to store thousands of sash-and-case frames. Those window frames were made in Victorian times at the time of the construction of the flats so that windows could be replaced as and when that was needed. In the past 20 years—over a century later—that supply had not yet been exhausted; it was still being used for that purpose.
Most people who live in flats or tenements, of course, do not have the means or resources to prepare for the future in such a way but, as has been pointed out, other ways need to be considered to maintain our buildings in the long term. Simply building new houses will not address the state of the existing stock. Often, the difficulty may be neither the lack of will nor resources but of initiative on the part of one of the owners to research what repairs are needed, seek the agreement of other owners, instruct work, check the work, and try to collect the cost of works from fellow owners.
Some of the ideas that have been floated, such as those behind the tenement health check policy, may be welcome, but the potential solutions may be a bit more difficult, and a whole change of culture may be required in terms of owners in Scotland. We need practical solutions that will work, not new measures that will not be implemented.17:54
I thank Ben Macpherson for securing the debate. As we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the hurricane that caused huge damage in Glasgow and killed 20 people on 14 January 1968, the timing is appropriate. The connection between the debate and that event is that, at that time, tenemental maintenance was poor and, sadly, that continues to be the case in many areas today.
I declare a personal interest in the topic. I will describe the estate where I stay. I live in a post-second world war tenement in Barlanark, which is part of greater Easterhouse, in a street that previously had such a bad reputation that, when a car was stolen in Glasgow, it was one of the first places that the police looked. However, Bellway Homes took over the whole area from the council and, from 1989 onwards, it has carried out a very good renovation of the tenements. We now have 272 flats, with a mixture of owner-occupiers and private rented property. When I bought my flat, in 1990, it cost less than £25,000; if a valuation were carried out now, it would be worth about £50,000.
The factors that we have in place are Cumming, Turner and Watt, and I find no fault with that company. I know that it has a considerable amount of outstanding debt from owners in our estate. Over those 29 years, the factors have handled the common gardening, the building insurance and emergency repairs, but that is really all that has been done. There has been no regular maintenance and no inspection of the roofs—there has been nothing for 29 years. Sadly, that is the case for much tenemental stock in Glasgow.
I have looked at the case work that I have been involved in over the years, and the worst situation is usually where there is no factor at all. I accept that, as Ivan McKee has pointed out, there are good and bad experiences of factors—I get complaints about them from time to time—but at least when factors are in place there is a structure for potentially getting common repairs done.
At the other end of the spectrum are housing association properties where part of the rent is set aside each month and funds are built up for reactive and cyclical maintenance. Members could go into neighbouring closes in my constituency and see one that is very run down whereas the next is in great condition. I am pretty sure that the former has no factor in place whereas the latter is run by a housing association.
Going back to my personal experience, although a factor is in place, there is no sinking fund and no cyclical maintenance. Why is that? In some cases, the residents do not have the money for those things; in other cases, residents have the money and they can manage to replace the windows, refit the kitchens and the bathrooms and incur other expenditure pertinent to their own property. What can we do about the situation? Should we overrule the title deeds and impose factors? Should there be compulsory sinking funds for maintenance? That might be easier for new owners, but what about existing owners who have no resources? I accept that it is a tricky subject and that the answers are not easy.
As other members have said, it is a challenge for us as a nation, not just as individual owners. We all benefit from the fabulous tenemental properties in our cities, so we all have a joint responsibility to tackle the issue, which is a societal problem. I welcome the increasing recognition of the problem. Last week, I had encouraging emails from the Property Managers Association Scotland and the Scottish Association of Landlords, both of which recognise the issue as a serious problem.
I very much welcome Ben Macpherson taking a lead on the issue, and I hope that there can be cross-party agreement that we need to find a way forward.
I am sure that all members would like to hear the minister’s response. To enable that, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by the time necessary—as long as he does not speak for longer than half an hour.
That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Ben Macpherson]
Motion agreed to.17:59
I, too, congratulate Ben Macpherson on bringing the debate to the chamber, and I remind members that I am a former Edinburgh councillor. During the five years before I was elected to the Scottish Parliament, I was the convener of the governance, risk and best-value committee at City of Edinburgh Council. For those five years, the topic that dominated our agenda more than any other was probably that of statutory repairs and what went wrong here in Edinburgh.
I have been particularly interested to hear Ben Macpherson’s suggestions on a way forward, some of which have merit and need to be explored. It became clear to me, as the convener of the committee, and to my Edinburgh councillor colleagues that our previous system was not working. It was not working because of the incompetence of some council officers and because some people were acting illegally, and it drained the council of valuable financial resources.
We must recognise that, whatever solution we come up with, local authorities will probably end up having to deal with the matter. If that is the case, what resources will councils be given to deal with it? As members of the Scottish Parliament, we must be careful when we delegate to local authorities.
Given the complexity of the situation before us, the diversity of practices in different cities and the diversity of the potential solutions, does Jeremy Balfour support my proposal that we collaborate in reviewing the potential solutions and that we carefully, robustly and diligently explore them?
As a famous musician might have said, Ben Macpherson took the words right out of my mouth. I absolutely agree that a working group will be an excellent way forward. My plea as a former Edinburgh councillor, and other members who have been councillors will surely agree with me, is that, whatever solution—or solutions, as I suspect there will be—is found, the extra resources that will be required by local authorities to take forward that solution must be worked out.
The present system in Edinburgh is not working either. Having only emergency repairs done means that some properties are not looked after by landlords and owners and that, in a few years’ time, we will end up with a major crisis on our hands. That will be the case in other parts of Scotland, too.
The biggest challenge is with buildings where there are absentee landlords. There are parts of Edinburgh where three quarters of the flats, if not more, are owned by absentee landlords. That ends in situations such as one that I heard about recently, which was experienced by a lady who is in her 80s and lives in a top-floor flat. A roof repair was required and, as water was coming into her flat, she fixed it. However, she could get none of the other flat owners to pay their part of the cost. That is unacceptable for that lady and for the future of the property, so we need to find a solution.
In order that we are not here for 45 minutes, I will conclude my speech. I welcome Ben Macpherson’s work. We need to find different solutions, and we need to learn from good practice. However, I return to my main point that, whatever solution we come up with, local authorities must be appropriately funded to make sure that it works not just in theory but in practice.18:03
A happy new year to you, Presiding Officer, and to all members in the chamber. This afternoon’s debate has been fairly consensual and I am grateful to Ben Macpherson for raising the issue. I am sure that we all agree that it is an important issue and I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate.
There has been a marked and sustained improvement in the quality of housing in Scotland. The latest Scottish house condition survey showed a continued long-term trend of improvement in levels of disrepair and a 5 percentage point improvement on 2015.
However, 68 per cent of homes in Scotland still have some degree of disrepair. Measures of disrepair range from fairly minor problems, such as leaky taps, to the 3 per cent of cases in which disrepair is critical, urgent and extensive. Disrepair is worse in older buildings, and I appreciate and recognise that there can be particular difficulties in dealing with common repairs in tenements, which require co-operation between owners and can cut across tenures, as many members have already said.
Both the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs and I receive regular correspondence on tenements. Problems can affect newer buildings as well as older ones, and they occur right across Scotland. We have heard today about issues in areas as diverse as Edinburgh, Glasgow and East Kilbride. I would like to add my constituency in Aberdeen to that list.
Although we must not be complacent, the improvement in levels of disrepair is a reflection of the positive actions that we have already taken. We have introduced new powers in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014 to allow local authorities to pay and recover missing shares on behalf of owners who do not contribute to their share of common works.
I have been very pleased to learn that local authorities including Glasgow and Edinburgh have found those powers useful in supporting owners who want to look after their property. I encourage all local authorities to consider those powers and to share examples of best practice. I hope that we can all agree that that is required.
Does Kevin Stewart accept that the figures that I have come up with show that councils are not using the available powers widely and that there is a nervousness to do so among local authorities, mainly because of the financial risk that they perceive around getting work done?
I accept that there are a number of local authorities that are not using the powers. They are quite new. I think that local authorities need to look at the work that is going on in areas that are using missing share powers—Glasgow and Edinburgh in particular.
I have been trying to encourage Aberdeen City Council to use missing share powers for a number of cases that I know of in a constituency capacity. I hope that it will do so and I hope that others will look at the best practice that is going on and look very carefully at implementing those powers within their areas.
Presiding Officer, I restate my intention to extend the missing share powers to registered social landlords. Regulations will be introduced on that later this year. I think that Mr Mason made some very good points about the fact that where housing associations are involved, the state of repair is much better. I intend to extend the missing share powers and I will introduce regulations later in the year.
For owners who require essential repairs and energy efficiency improvements, including common works, we are piloting a £10 million equity loan scheme in Glasgow, Argyll and Bute, and Perth and Kinross. Loans from the scheme can be repaid when the house is sold, and we will consider expanding the pilot across Scotland once it has been completed and analysed.
I certainly appreciate that some owners feel frustrated by private landlords who do not contribute to common works. Although there are many good landlords, I have made it clear in this chamber that I expect local authorities to use all the powers that are already at their disposal to tackle poor-quality housing in the private rented sector. Those powers have been enhanced by recent legislation, including through enhanced enforcement areas and the power to report breaches of the repairing standard to the First-tier Tribunal on behalf of vulnerable tenants. I encourage more local authorities to use those powers, in particular to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
The under one roof website has been mentioned a number of times in contributions today, by Mr Macpherson, Mr McKee and others. The Scottish Government contributed to the development of that resource and I am pleased to say that it is widely recognised as an invaluable source of information and advice for owners on their rights and responsibilities. It is a tool that I use quite a lot in my constituency, and I encourage all members to make their constituents aware of that website.
Some of the ideas that have been raised by members in today’s debate were previously raised in the Scottish Government’s common housing-quality standard forum, including sinking funds and five-yearly tenemental surveys, which have been suggested by RICS, the Built Environment Forum Scotland and the Chartered Institute of Housing.
We have already consulted on improving condition standards in the private rented sector, and draft regulations are proposed for later this year. I intend to invite public consultation on other specific issues that affect tenemental property later in the year.
We are consulting on proposals on a revised code of conduct for property factors. As Ms White mentioned, that consultation ends next Monday and I have encouraged everyone with an interest in the issue to respond. I am especially keen to hear from and to reflect the views of home owners, and I encourage members to help to ensure that constituents express their views if they have not already done so. I also encourage members to express their own views in response to the consultation.
I recognise that, as Ben Macpherson and other members have said, other ideas have been put forward to help to improve how tenements are maintained. Although there is no monopoly of good ideas and we will look at all possible solutions, I am reluctant to rush into legislation, especially when recent changes are still to bed in and there are some areas where existing powers are being underused, as Mr Simpson has found out during his survey work.
Some of the suggestions that have been put forward would lead to costs for owners, and there would be significant issues in relation to enforcement. What would happen, for example, if an owner refused to pay into a sinking fund, said that they had no money to pay or refused to participate in an owners association? Members will undoubtedly recall that we have previously debated the concerns of those who are unhappy with their factors, which Mr McKee highlighted in his speech.
I want to look to the future and say something about Scotland’s energy efficiency programme. By 2035, we will have transformed the energy efficiency and heating of our buildings so that, wherever it is technically feasible and practical, they will be near zero carbon. We have committed to investing more than £0.5 billion in that programme over the next four years. It is absolutely vital to the success of our plans to transform the energy efficiency of our homes that they are in a good condition so that improvements can go ahead and we can meet our fuel poverty and climate change obligations.
I again thank Ben Macpherson for securing the debate and providing an opportunity to shine a light on these important matters. I am glad that it has been a consensual debate. Let us all continue to work together to improve properties right across Scotland.Meeting closed at 18:13.