A Brighter Future for Scotland’s Neglected Residential Buildings?

A Brighter Future for Scotland’s Neglected Residential Buildings?

We’ve been keeping an eye on the progress of the Working Group on Tenement Maintenance, which published its final recommendations report at an event in Edinburgh on 4 June, and are feeling positive about the problem of poor maintenance of mutually owned buildings in Scotland finally being effectively addressed.

The problem is readily apparent, here in Inverness and in towns and cities across Scotland; Vegetation sprouting from gutters and masonry, broken rainwater gutters, defective pointing and rain-stained stonework often supporting a green slime. 

In terms of property titles, maintenance of common parts of such buildings is usually set out as a joint responsibility of individual owners in the block, meaning that all need to contribute to the cost of, for example, a roof repair.  In practice, that proves difficult.  Ground-floor owners don’t see it as their problem and, if there’s no property factor responsible for managing maintenance, it can prove very difficult indeed to extract the cash.  This leaves the directly affected owners whose ceilings are wet and deteriorating the option of funding the works themselves or of watching their part of the property deteriorate further.

What’s needed in our view is a change of mind-set.  The purchase of a flat in a communally owned block should be seen not as “buying a flat” but as buying a share in a mutually owned asset – a bit like buying a share in a yacht.  Recurring costs related to upkeep of that larger asset need to be factored into the decision making process at the time of sale.

Established in March 2018, the Working Group comprised of property experts and MSPs from all political parties. This broad cross-party involvement was probably critical to preventing the initiative succumbing to political infighting.  In January this year, the group published its interim recommendations report and then formally discussed consultation responses from stakeholders and the public.

The Group’s Final Recommendations Report published last night puts forward three interlinked recommendations:

  • The “scheme property” of all tenements should be inspected every five years with a report prepared that will be publicly available to existing or prospective owners and tenants, neighbours and policy makers.
  • Establishing compulsory owners’ associations which would be an essential element of tenement maintenance by providing leadership, effective decision-making processes and the ability for groups to enter into contracts.
  • A requirement to set up a Building Reserve Fund (BRF), with funds used for maintenance including repairs and replacement, the installation of insulation, cleaning, gardening, painting and other routine works, the day to day running of a tenement and the reinstatement of a part (but not most) of the tenement.

In this way, individuals considering purchase of a flat in a tenement block can be aware of the maintenance record of the building, likely future maintenance requirements and indicative costs, and of the annual cost of owning the flat should they proceed to purchase.

Hew Edgar, RICS interim head of policy, said: “Following the publication of the interim recommendations report in January, the group has consulted widely on the three recommendations - through cross-party working and extensive stakeholder engagement – and updated the final recommendations based on feedback received.

“The recommendations are interlinked, and while each recommendation has its own benefits, the required transformative change to improve the fabric of Scotland’s tenement property can only arise through the implementation of all three.

“RICS welcomes all recommendations within the report and we will continue to work with the Working Group, Government and interested parties to help implement these robust solutions to help future proof Scotland’s historic residential property.”

We at Simply Let also welcome these proposals.  Openness, availability of information and costs, and a ready acceptance of the concept of collective responsibility for upkeep of the larger entity can only be good.