I’m reading Lesley Riddoch’s book Blossom which is about her experiences of Scottish democracy and it has an excellent chapter on tenements. These medium density homes, which make up much of Scottish city housing, create community by forcing people to live together but don’t create ghettos in the way that high density housing of 60s and 70s housing schemes do. They mean that people live close enough together it is often practical and indeed the easiest form of transport to walk or cycle around town. They allow for on-street shops. They are also weirdly rare in England and fail to feature in most modern developments where people prefer houses which take up more land and need cars to me useful.
I love the flat I own in a tenement in Polwarth in Edinburgh for all these reasons, but I continue to be saddened and annoyed by the number of people who rent them out, treating them as a bank account which doesn’t need any maintenance. It doesn’t occur to these landlords that they have chosen to take on a job which needs active involvement. And then there’s the agents who are happy to rent out these properties, taking their cut while knowing there is maintenance needing done they don’t get around to helping with. Today’s grumpy blog post focuses on the agents.
Recently I got into a heated discussion about canoe politics. Some slalomists had put in motions to get more money from the national association. They ended up being defeated (if they money doesn’t exist it doesn’t make much sense to requite it to appear) and the slalomist on the board was voted off in favour of a marthon paddler. At the end the guy who had lead much of the online discussion, Stewart, posted a link to a news article about the marathon paddler going to court. This was a very petty way to treat the losing of an argument and I said so, pointing out it was irrelevant and that he ran an estate agents who were renting out a flat in my tenement while not helping out with any of the repairs needed. The property has leaks and as I wrote in my previous grumpy blog post it has damp which needs fixed.
Stewart said he would be happy to know of any problems so I added him to the e-mails with the other neighbours. After some further exchanges among my neighbours about the repairs he asked for his staff member to be added to the e-mails, a chap called Kjartan who had previously ignored any call for help with repairs or stairwell meetings. Kjartan ignored the issue of course and eventually I had to point out what needed doing, call some contractors, convince enough people to agree, organise the repairs, collect the money. Kjartan kept giving vauge excuses why that wasn’t enough and when I keep pressing to point out it was his job to make it enough he ended up quoting the Tenement Act 2004 to say why the responsibility was all from his client landlord and not his.
So finally after a year of being stonewalled by Click-Let I got an assurance that indeed they were happy to rent out property, knowing it doesn’t meet The Repairing Standard which is the legal requirement for rentals. They consider it entirely their landlord client’s problem and they are probably right.
But as I wrote about before the landlords are happy to let long term problems slide just expecting someone else to fix them. And the tenants go along with this too because it’s not worth the hassle to give them grief or take them to a tribunal, in the worst case they can move out.
It needs some legislative fixes to let this tragedy of the commons be fixed:
- Alter the Tenements Act to make property agents joint liable with owners in meeting The Repairing Standard. They make lots of money doing nothing economically productive, they should at least be responsible when doing it.
- The Tenements Act to be altered to make landlords and agents liable for repairs to owners of other flats in the stair as well as their tenants. Tenements need everyone to look after each other but for some reason the law doesn’t reflect this.
- The fit and proper test for landlords and agents to be defined and monitored and for them to be struck off the registrar when they don’t meet it
- The landlord’s register to require an active e-mail address for all landlords as well as their agents.
- Nobody to be allowed on the landlord register without first answering a questionnaire about what monitoring and maintenance they have done and will continue to do
- It to be illegal to sell an inhabited tenement which does not meet The Repairing Standard
- House surveys need to actually inspect the whole building. The one I read for the tenement which got sold in my previous grumpy blog post said they surveyor had looked at it through binoculars which isn’t going to tell you anything useful.
The council needs to write to every landlord and agent reminding them of their duties. And the same to the decreasing numbers of owner-occupiers. It needs to dispell myths like ground floor flats not being responsible for maintaining the stairwell.
Landlord Accreditation Scotland are supposed to ensure landlords follow best practice. They need to ensure that their agents maintain the properties they rent out.
Only with these changes will we be able to ensure properties like mine get their owners to work together towards maintenance and we can see an end to the sort of tragedy which saw Illegal Jacks restaurant close down.
Amazingly one of the other owner occupiers in the stair has contacted a roofing company and it seems like we may actually get some of the repairs done. No thanks to Click-Let who are happy to take in money while problems go unfixed.