Helen Martin: Lights are off but is anybody home?

File picture: Allan Milligan

File picture: Allan Milligan

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THE lights are going to go out in thousands of properties from July 1 as Edinburgh council withdraws the repair and maintenance of stair lighting . . . but only for tenements in which every flat is owned by private individuals.

It’s another cost-saving exercise which will save £1 million but it’s a controversial decision which has attracted praise from those who don’t own tenement flats, anger from others who do, and a lot of blame being piled on absent landlords who allegedly don’t pay up for repairs.

So here’s where I ’fess up. In the past I’ve owned and lived in a tenement flat. Now we own one and rent it out. We are also usually among the first of eight owners to pay our share of repair bills.

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We pay a letting agent to ensure everything within the flat is safe, satisfactory, operational and meets legal rental requirements, we pay landlord insurance, and we’ve paid the fee to register with the council as a landlord. Being a good landlord isn’t cheap. And yes, I am horrified by this council decision, not least because it has the potential to put my tenants at risk.

This city is full of tenements, “vertical streets” which, if the lights fail at night, constitute a danger for those living there or visiting. The council’s alternative is to offer owners information on appointing a factor or company to cover the stair lighting instead. That is laughably unrealistic.

Any commercial company supplying an electrician and a van, ladders and travel time, will have to massively inflate the core cost of changing a light bulb (the most common call-out) to make a decent profit. I can’t see a queue of private owners signing up for that. Inevitably some people are going to try and do it themselves, probably with disastrous consequences either from the electrics or falling off their ladder and plunging down a stairwell.

Even if they do pay what will have to be a weighted charge for professionals to do such a small job, there’s the task of collecting the contribution from every flat in the stair. Anyone who has lived in a tenement knows how problematic that is, how long it takes and how often the good guys shell out for the baddies who refuse to stump up.

Already the suspension of the statutory repairs scheme has left tenement buildings which have been standing for hundreds of years now at risk of neglect precisely because of the difficulty of getting everyone to agree to necessary work.

For a city with as many traditional 19th century tenements as Edinburgh, cutting the services which help to keep them maintained, safe and well-lit is a very short-sighted policy, especially with an increasing housing

shortage.

With care, they could stand for another century. Or these beautiful flats making up so much of our skyline and housing stock could turn into dark slums with black and frightening stairways. That wouldn’t be good for Edinburgh.

The Greens on the council know that. Cllr Gavin Corbett proposed keeping the service and recovering costs from private owners. He’s right. A mere £10 a year from every owner-occupier or landlord – including those who just happen to share a stair with council tenants – would more than cover it. But for Heaven’s (and safety’s) sake, keep the lights on.

Make sure blame lies at right door

INTERESTING comments came in last week after my condemnation of anti-Semitism but my confessed dislike of the actions of the Israeli State against Palestine. I know this is controversial but just to correct a couple of points . . . my orthodox Jewish friends at school had a separate dining room because custom forbade them from eating with Gentiles. It had nothing to do with dietary requirements as they brought their own lunches and was certainly not at the behest of Gentiles. Nor was I complaining about it. I was highlighting that in those days we just accepted each other’s principles or differences unquestioningly, be they Jewish, Catholic or Protestant, and studied and played together regardless.

And nor was I likening the internationally-recognised state of Israel with terrorist organisation IS. I dislike both, for different reasons. The topical “connection” is the current Scottish rise in anti-Semitism and the increased verbal harassment of UK Muslims. My criticism was of those who contribute to both by asserting that a Scottish Jew has any responsibility for what Israel does, or that a Scottish Muslim has any responsibility for IS. Is that so outrageous?

Witches deserve city memorial

MY friend is a reiki practitioner. She also cleanses bits of crystal before prescribing them for healing purposes, burns various herbs to reduce negativity, places strange little items and statues strategically around her house and garden. And she has a powerful instinct for “reading” possessions and photographs. She is, by 16th century standards and her own admission, a witch.

The call for a statue in memory of women burned at the stake in Edinburgh for alleged sorcery is all the more compelling when you actually know a good witch.

Sounds trouble

ON a shelf in a pet shop we discovered a squeaky toy that only a dog can hear because it’s inaudible to humans. Wonder how the returns policy works on that one?