Homeowners being forced to sell to council and become social renters

Tuesday May 4th 2021

Edinburgh-housing-buy-back-

Edinburgh homeowners Elaine and Keith Dennis


Written by Local Democracy Reporter, Joseph Anderson

The owners of former council houses are terrified Edinburgh City Council is trying to take their homes from them – after presenting homeowners with repair bills of up to £40,000 and offering to buy back the properties minus the cost of repairs.

Homeowners in the Wester Hailes/Murrayburn area, who bought their homes using ‘right to buy’ legislation, are accusing the council of trying to steal their homes and force them to once again become council tenants, by pushing unnecessary repairs on them for the buildings they share with current council tenants.

The repairs, being conducted as part of a regeneration scheme, are only being carried out in buildings where a majority of homeowners and tenants vote for them.

However, council tenants will pay nothing towards the repairs, meaning shared buildings with a majority of social housing are voting through the works – leaving the minority homeowners facing financial ruin.

After presenting the homeowners with huge, unaffordable bills, Edinburgh City Council is then giving them two options – pay the bill, or sell the house back to the council and become social tenants once again.

Elaine Dennis, who lives on Murrayburn Park, and her former partner Keith Dennis, are such homeowners. They have been presented with a bill for £35,000 and are now being pressured into selling their home back to the council.

Keith said: “They want to do up the Wester Hailes/Murrayburn area as part of a regeneration scheme. They really want to go to town, not just repairing but replacing the roof on our block. It maybe does need a little work but it doesn’t need replacing.

“The bill for us is just under £35,000. The woman above us who owns her property has been given the same quote.

“There’s eight of us on our stair – six are council tenants – it went to a vote. It was very undemocratic as the council owns the other six properties.”

Elaine added: “Every stair that has a majority of council tenants is basically forcing this through. It’s such an astronomical amount of money, we feel like they’re trying to force us into giving the property back.

“The quote they gave us is not a final amount, it’s just an estimate that could go up.

“Some of the things do need repaired – but we don’t need a new roof.

“We’re not saying the building doesn’t need repairs, but some of them are just cosmetic. For example, they’re putting on a new door which we don’t need.”

Pentland Hills ward councillor, and Conservative candidate for Edinburgh Western in this week’s Holyrood election, Susan Webber, said: “There’s some people getting bills over £40,000, and the magnitude of the repairs just speaks to me of the long term neglect in terms of the housing stock in the area.

“No homeowner, if presented with a bill of that magnitude, would be expecting it, because you would have been keeping your house in order and repairing as you went along.

“These are astronomical bills they’re being presented with, and if you look at the area, they’re not going to have that level of savings.

“They’re being told if they can’t pay it, the council will buy the house back off them, with the bill taken off the value of the home, and to become a council tenant again – which is absolutely scandalous.

“If you watch any council debate, time and again, the administration blames the housing crisis in Edinburgh on right to buy – they forget that there are still people living in these homes.

“What is an absolute scandal is that the council haven’t invested in new homes, and haven’t invested in and looked after the existing housing stock, to the point where a homeowner can be presented with a bill of such magnitude.”

The scope of works is focused on the repair to the fabric of the blocks; including insulation, new roof coverings, repairs within common stair areas to address the poor condition and immediate problems in those blocks.

In many blocks the external wall render has fallen off and there have been emergency incidents over recent years of fallen masonry and render. The roof tiles have not been replaced since the properties were built in the 1960s.

According to the council, these incidents pose a risk to public safety and have been attended to by council officers who only carried out temporary repairs, with no permanent repairs being carried out.

Legislation allows the council to take forward this work where they have a majority agreement, and a vote is being taken in each block.

Portobello and Craigmillar councillor Kate Campbell, the SNP’s Housing, Homelessness and Fair Work Convener, said: “One of the worst legacies of the Right to Buy policy is the number of council homes that are now in mixed tenure stairs, and difficulties this creates when we are trying to make improvements for our tenants.

“We have responsibilities as a social landlord to meet housing quality standards and energy efficiency standards.

“To meet these standards, that tenants rightly expect of us, we often need to carry out work to whole properties and communal areas – like door entries or energy efficiency measures for example improving insulation.

“We know it can be difficult for private owners in stairs, especially where they are the original tenant who bought the property from the council.

“That’s why we have a buyback scheme in place which allows tenants to remain in the property as a council tenant with a secure tenancy.

“We’re also extending debt repayment options for up to 10 years and helping owners secure grants to help with the cost of the energy saving work planned.

“But the reality is that we do need to keep investing in our council properties, and it wouldn’t be right for council tenants to have to live in substandard properties because they happen to live in a mixed tenure stair through no fault of their own.

“This work is being done to help our tenants, owner occupiers and those who rent from private landlords within these blocks, to live in homes that are safe, secure and energy efficient.

“We will continue to work closely with other owners in the blocks to give professional guidance on what needs to be repaired due to wear and tear or that structurally needs to be replaced now to prevent any issues and more costly repairs arising in the future.

“Once the works are complete homes will be better insulated which will mean warmer homes – helping all residents reduce their energy bills.

“Tenants and owners should feel safer and more secure in repaired blocks with roof and wall rendering works carried out – extending the life, aesthetics and potential value of the properties and improving the quality of life for those that live there.

“We appreciate that it may be difficult for owners to meet their share of the costs and so we’re doing everything we possibly can to help. “

Forth councillor, and housing spokesperson for Edinburgh City Council’s Conservative group, Jim Campbell, said: “Right to buy is not the relevant factor in the challenges we now face in mix-tenure.

“What has created this issue was the failure of the council to establish proper deeds and burdens when homes were sold under the right to buy.

“Edinburgh City Council could easily have added reasonable provisions as part of the sale, but added nothing.

“If you look at Glasgow, for example, much less of a problem because factoring arrangements and deeds were better considered at the time of sales.

“I’m curious regarding the logic that a market value wouldn’t include the condition of a property, and therefore have already discounted any repair costs. Perhaps one for a surveyor.

“There is legislation around votes in blocks about work that is required. I think this covers repairs, rather than improvements. One for a lawyer.”

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