Housing on the agenda in Parliament

In the final weeks of Parliament ahead of the summer recess, MSPs voted in the chamber on two pieces of legislation concerning housing in Scotland.

First up was the Buildings (Recovery of Expenses) (Scotland) Bill, proposed by my colleague David Stewart MSP.  The Bill gives local authorities improved powers to recover their costs where they step in to deal with dangerous or defective buildings.

It is estimated that under the existing system, only 50% of debts are actually recovered and that there could be over £3.9 million in outstanding debts.

Dangerous and defective buildings are a real problem across Scotland, and research has suggested that as many as 81% of dwellings are in need of some kind of repair.  In Edinburgh, people are particularly affected by the issue of building maintenance following the statutory repairs scandal.

Defective buildings are not just unsafe to the public, they are an eyesore that can have a detrimental effect on the surrounding area by driving down the value of properties or making town centres seem unwelcoming.  The new legislation should help to address the situation by making it easier for local authorities to take action and recover costs.

The second piece of legislation considered was the Scottish Government’s wide-ranging Housing (Scotland) Bill.  The headline provisions in the bill are to abolish the right to buy, to increase flexibility for social housing allocation and to provide tools to tackle antisocial behaviour in the social sector.

The bill also includes a range of provisions on the private rented sector.  Rent reform was one of the key areas Labour focused on with proposals to limit rent reviews to once a year and to set a cap on rent rises.   Across Scotland there are over 300,000 private rented households, over 100,000 of which are classed as being in poverty.  The idea of a rent cap was supported by the Scottish Government’s own Expert Welfare Group so it was disappointing that the SNP chose to reject the move.

During the debate I moved a number of amendments to the bill informed by Edinburgh’s experience with statutory notices and particularly surrounding the operation of tenement management schemes (TMS).  Introduced as part of the Tenement (Scotland) Act 2004, the TMS was designed to provide a template for homeowners in shared buildings to ensure the effective and fair management of common repairs.

A common issue that emerged in the statutory notice scandal, and which has affected the use of tenement management schemes, is what happens when an owner is either missing or refuses to cooperate.   Through the Housing Bill, we are attempting to address this issue by giving local authorities the power to pay a missing share and recover costs from any uncooperative owner.  This would help address delays to work caused by these owners.  These provisions should come into force relatively soon now that the bill is passed.

I successfully argued for an amendment that could  potentially see housing associations given a similar power.  This would allow an association to ensure that works are carried out quickly while ensuring they are able to recover costs.   This measure could only happen following a consultation by the Scottish Government.

I was also pleased to have an amendment accepted that will require the Scottish Government to update its guidance to local authorities to ensure they are aware of their new powers under the Act.  Getting the provisions of a bill is one thing – getting them implemented effectively is another and guidance has a key role to play.

If you want to find out more about how to organise common repairs with other owners in your property, Consumer Focus Scotland has published a guide for homeowners which can be accessed here.