A thought for flat owners

Remember the last extreme winter weather event, the Big Freeze of 2010/11 with heavy snowfalls, record low temperatures, travel chaos and school disruption?

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Hopefully the fall-out from this year’s Beast from the East blizzard will not be so damaging for property owners as the last time.

The comfort and safety of central heating service contracts have become almost a must since the last cold blast, and that snow shovel, salt and de-icer that you couldn’t get your hands on for love or money at the time and which have been lurking at the back of the hall cupboard ever after, have found immediate use at last.

However one notable challenge of those wintery woes for traditional Edinburgh tenement flat owners remains sadly unimproved.  This of course relates to the packing up of the City of Edinburgh Council’s hitherto time-honoured statutory repair notice system.  Admittedly not perfectly formed, the system did however operate to address important fabric maintenance issues in Edinburgh’s fine old Victorian and Georgian tenements, as and when they arose, and effectively compel tenement proprietors to cough up for their share of these works, arranged for and carried out under repair schemes supervised by the Council on their behalf.  Unfortunately abuses of powers in the operation of the system by certain individuals within the Council latterly came to light, the system became discredited and, against the background of local authority funding cuts it was only a matter of time before the Council threw in the towel – too risky for them, and too expensive to run.

In the wake of 2010/11 Big Freeze many tenements were beset by a series of serious problems with damaged roofs, drainage systems and masonry, ravaged by the adverse weather.  Many of these problems were satisfactorily dealt with under the old statutory notice system.  However a number of repair schemes became the subject of investigation for misadministration, and were subsequently abandoned.  The system went into limbo until its eventual abandonment in 2013. Repairs were left expensively and dangerously unattended to until hard voluntary effort on the part of one or more tenement proprietors (obtaining majority consent and painstakingly ingathering funds) eventually forced a solution.

The issue is pretty much unique to Edinburgh in the sense that in other towns and cities (notably Glasgow) local authorities have never extended their interpretation of duties under the Building (Scotland) Acts beyond essential emergency repairs only. Traditional tenement housing stock, along with later and modern flatted housing developments are almost all administered through professional factors, subject to payment of service charges.  Edinburgh does follow suit where modern flatted developments are concerned.

Tenement flat owners are wise to be conscious of good collective practice in relation to shared maintenance and repairs – including things like establishing a “stair committee”, a sinking fund, and regular building inspections.

The codification of tenement proprietors’ rights and obligations (in circumstances where title deeds may be unclear or inconclusive) contained in the Tenements Act has also certainly helped these processes in more recent times.

For the Council’s part the retreat is complete.  They will now merely provide information and advice to help property owners manage their own repairs, and will only intervene to provide repair services in the case of real emergency.   

Here’s to a balmy Spring - just round the corner now!

 

BC Blog Editor

For further informationon the application of the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004, the City of Edinburgh Council emergency service or any property advice please feel free to contact any member of the Blair Cadell Solicitors and Estate Agents Property Team on 0131 555 5800 or emailing property@blaircadell.com