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How Can We Save Scotland’s Iconic Tenements?

How can we save Scotland’s iconic tenements?

In Scotland, when you use the word, “tenement”, what traditionally comes to mind is a sandstone or granite apartment building with 3 or 4 or maybe 5 floors. However, a tenement has a legal definition which is, “A tenement is a building comprising two or more related flats that are divided from one another horizontally.” This means that “large houses that have been converted into flats, high-rise blocks, four-in-a-block and modern apartment blocks are tenements. So too are blocks of flats with commercial properties in them, such as 3 ground-floor shops, and so are office buildings if they also have two or more flats. A ‘flat’, in this definition, does not have to be residential and can be on more than one floor.” Source

However, in recent years there has been concern about the maintenance and gradual disrepair of the traditional sandstone tenement. So much so, that a Scottish Parliamentary Working Group on Tenement Maintenance was established to tackle the issue. The Group has been meeting since March 2018 and in this article we are going to examine key outcomes from Group meetings that could be influenced by Property Factoring firms in Scotland. We’ll also take a broader view of how the UK Residential Property Management can learn from the issues arising in Scotland.

The problem

“Traditionally dwellings constructed before 1919, make up approximately 20% of Scotland’s building stock.” (SHS 2018)

“68% of dwellings in Scotland built before 1919 are in a state of critical disrepair”

“In 2018, 41.5% of all dwellings failed to meet Scottish Housing Quality Standards.” (SHCS 2018)

These stats are far from ideal and illustrate the extent of the problem with Scotland’s sandstone or granite tenement blocks. This is why the Working Group was established in order to discuss and establish solutions to the ongoing problem. But why is there even a problem in the first place?

The root of the problem

We believe that the root of these problems could be down to a number of factors.

  1. money (or lack of)
  2. unwillingness to cooperate within buildings
  3. lack of motivation to cooperate or ‘laziness’
  4. mixed tenure dwellings (privately rented, social housing, owned or business and residential)
  5. no real consequences of not maintaining the dwelling
  6. uncooperative landlords
  7. no clear guidance on the importance of property maintenance

Any one of these reasons, and possibly even ones not listed, could be a contributor to the lack of upkeep of a building. So how do we overcome them?

The Scottish Government’s Response

In March 2019, the Scottish Government produced a response to the findings of the steering group, which, as you will appreciate, is lengthy and detailed. For the purpose of our article, we will focus in on those recommendations that affect or could be influenced by, Property Factors in Scotland.

“We agree that action is needed to improve the condition of our tenements to ensure that our buildings can provide good quality, safe and sustainable homes in the future.”

Here we see the crux of what successful property management is. The ability to provide good quality, safe homes. And sustainable? Well that’s definitely an area that forward thinking, responsible property factors will embrace and help to drive. For more on this, you can read a previous article here.

 Any change needs to be delivered in a way that engages people, and the burden of increased costs must not fall on those least able to pay. We must not address poor housing condition at the cost of pricing out some of the most vulnerable in society from their homes.

For Property Factors in Scotland (and Residential Property Managers) it is crucial that everyone in a building is on board with the upkeep of the building.

Perhaps contributions for repairs and maintenance need to be based on the type of ownership – after all, landlords and homeowners have more to gain from ensuring the upkeep of their property. And conversely, more to lose by not doing so.

 The maintenance of common property is an important issue and owners in tenements, both homeowners and landlords, need to fully accept their shared responsibilities for maintaining their property. It is important that where there are powers under existing legislation, these are being used appropriately.

Property Factors can use this opportunity to communicate with and campaign, not only to their existing clients, but also to those in tenement blocks that do not have a factor in place.  This is an opportunity to educate and inform and be the leaders in bringing about change. This could be something as simple as a ‘Did You Know’ type letter, postcard or feature on the website, communicating the problems and solutions. Which brings me on to…

Perhaps the most interesting opportunities for Property Factors to get involved are the solutions that could be implemented whilst legislation is being considered. Of which there are many. Of which we’ll discuss in a future