Helen Martin: Broken system needs repaired

Tenement buildings are falling into disrepair in Edinburgh. Picture:  Callum Bennetts

Tenement buildings are falling into disrepair in Edinburgh. Picture: Callum Bennetts

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ALMOST half of all properties in Edinburgh are shared tenements (not to mention four-in-a-blocks and other arrangements that involve mutual repairs).

That becomes obvious looking at the view from my office window. Tenements of all sizes and values, from those with gracious bay windows and Victorian cornices to little, three-to-a-landing room and kitchens, spread all over the city even to the outskirts, only really disappearing in suburbia and beyond.

That is why Edinburgh had a unique statutory repairs system to care for its unique city housing stock. People needed some mechanism to force fellow owners to pay for necessary repairs without which the building would degrade and deteriorate and everyone would suffer financially.

Yes, disgraceful council employee corruption and over-charging was responsible for the scheme’s suspension. But while it remains in limbo, the city’s tenement dwellers and Edinburgh’s heritage are both at risk and the need for restoring statutory repairs grows greater by the minute.

The situation isn’t necessarily trouble-free but it is usually better when a stair is inhabited by owner-occupiers. They can’t “escape” their neighbours, or the signs of damp, cracking, subsidence or whatever else is going wrong. As their main home and investment, only a genuine lack of money or sheer bloody-mindedness is likely to stop them paying their share.

But more and more tenement flats are owned by absentee landlords. I’m one of them. Fortunately all the owners in the stair, absent or not, are keen to maintain the property, although one lot seem to have gone off travelling so we have had to cover their shares between us.

Tenements do tend to rise in value, but at over 100 years old most need repairs from time to time. In the old days neither residents nor landlords could shirk their duty. The council forged ahead with the work, charged everyone their share and put an inhibition order on the properties of those who didn’t stump up meaning they couldn’t sell the flat or borrow against it without paying the debt. Now if folk don’t want to pay up, there’s nothing to force them except possibly civil action which is cripplingly expensive for the innocent parties.

Doing without a system, as we have been for three to four years, is not an option for Edinburgh. And taking their time to sort out the catastrophic mess caused by their own dodgy staff and gross mismanagement, is not an option for the city council. The news that the new shared repairs enforcement system will now not be introduced for at least a year rather than this September, is not something we should tolerate.

Owners have been forced to pay over the odds to contractors who didn’t deserve it. Council tax-payers have had to foot the bill for such over-payments being “written off” when owners successfully proved them wrong. And all the way along, owners and tenants are watching their properties fall into further disrepair because the council screwed up, leading to even higher costs when eventually some form of repair enforcement gets going again.

This should have been a major priority, something that came before trams, sleeping policemen, speed limits, Festivals, Hogmanay parties, firework displays, pot-holes and almost everything else with the exception of safe school buildings.

By the time of the next council elections in May 2017, we should have had the new system in place for over a year. Even that would be about five years too late.

Cold calls get distinctly frosty

AFTER constantly complaining about cold calls, Himself answered one from a PPI recovery firm and gave them some basic details. Much to our amazement (we didn’t know we’d paid any PPI), it turned out we were due a tidy amount! While we were still waiting for the cheque from the mortgage provider bank to arrive, the threats from the PPI firm began.

By multiple texts, e-mails and letters they said our commission payment to them was “severely late” and warned us of legal action and the effect on our credit rating. We explained several times that the cheque had not yet arrived and as soon as it did, they would get their fee. The threats kept coming, getting darker and darker until we felt hounded and persecuted.

Two lessons from that

. . . even if you’re sure you haven’t paid PPI, they might have charged it without telling you. And don’t use a recovery firm, some of whom have a propensity to behave like gangsters.

WASTE OF TIME

IT’s the question on everyone’s lips . . . what’s the point of spending £12 million on a public inquiry that tells us what we already knew?

A live issue for women over 70

WE are living longer, encouraged – sometimes forced by necessity– to keep working into our seventies, and we are an ageing population.

Health care, especially prevention of illness, is a priority. Yet 70 is also the cut-off point beyond which women are no longer invited for regular breast cancer screening. And over half the 12,000 women who die every year from breast cancer are over 70. A lack of joined up thinking? Ageism? Or just one of the horrible God-like decisions which have to be made on the use of NHS resources?

Over-70s can still book three-yearly screening, though they won’t be reminded to do so. If you’re in that age group, make sure you take them up on it.