3 Managing the tenement
This section tells you what you can do to manage your tenement better and to get more out of your property manager if you employ one.
3.1 Talking to and meeting with your neighbours
You should communicate regularly with your neighbours about tenement management. This can be done through individual contact, email, letters or regular meetings. Meetings give people a chance to discuss issues, iron out misunderstandings and come up with better decisions.
Research shows that property management arrangements usually work much better if there is an owners association or some effective arrangement for communication amongst owners. Your council, or property manager if you have one, may be able to provide advice on how to set up an owners association.
3.2 Finding landlords and absentee owners
There are two mechanisms for tracking down landlords or absentee owners:
- The Registers of Scotland can provide the address given for the owner at the time he or she bought the flat. They may also be able to tell you of other properties in the same ownership. You will need to pay a small fee for each area searched.
- If the flat is rented, then the owner should be registered with the council as a private landlord. You can search the public register at www.landlordregistrationscotland.gov.uk. If you do not find what you are looking for, please contact the council where the property is located, or where you think the person or company should be registered, for further assistance.
3.3 Property managers and factors
Owners may appoint an agent, called a property manager or ‘factor’, to manage all or some of the owners’ maintenance responsibilities for a fee. You are not normally obliged to have a property manager, but if you do they should provide some or all of the following services, depending on what you are willing to pay for:
- Routine maintenance: Your manager should arrange for an annual inspection of the property and take appropriate action to deal with any problems identified by the inspection.
- One-off works: For work outwith a routine contract, your manager should obtain estimates for the work and send them to you (the owners). If a majority of you agree to accept the estimate, the manager will instruct the work to start. They may ask you to pay some of the costs up front.
- Additional services: Your manager can provide additional services for a fee, for example organising and administering common insurance for the building, or managing maintenance contracts for lifts, boilers and gardening services.
While property managers are normally private businesses, some councils and housing associations carry out property management services. This may be because the property was bought from a council or housing association under the Right to Buy and they have carried on providing property management services. Alternatively, the local council or housing association may own other properties in the tenement and decide to take on property management. There are special rules for appointing and dismissing property managers in these cases (see 3.3.5).
3.3.1 Working with your property manager
As with any relationship, good communication is the key. You must give the manager clear instructions about any decisions you take on common maintenance. You may find it helpful to nominate one person to communicate directly with the manager. You should also have an arrangement for telling the manager about any problem that comes to an owner’s attention or about unsatisfactory repairs or services, so that they can be put right without delay.
3.3.2 How can we be sure about the quality of the service?
Private property managers that are members of Property Managers Association Scotland are expected to keep to a code of practice. If you decide to appoint or change a property manager, the association can give you details of local members (see section 7 for contact details).
Councils and housing associations may also provide property management services but some may only offer this service where they own, or used to own, other parts of the common property. The Scottish Housing Regulator requires them to meet specific standards and have customer care policies that tell you what you can expect and how they will put things right if they fail to meet the standards (see section 7 for contact details).
The Scottish Government is developing a national accreditation scheme for property managers, which will be based on a comprehensive set of standards. For further information, or to find out if this is in place, please contact the Scottish Government (see section 7 for contact details).
3.3.3 Paying for property management services
Usually, you will be charged a monthly, quarterly or half-yearly management fee and you may be asked to pay into a float when you first move in. The float is to ensure that the manager has sufficient funds in hand to pay for regular costs or small repairs. You may also be asked to make regular payments to a sinking or building maintenance fund. The fund contributes to future maintenance and repair costs and helps to avoid the need for a large one-off payment.
When routine work has been done, the manager will check the contractor’s invoices and, once approved, pay them from the float or sinking fund or bill you individually, depending on your arrangements. Where work is non-routine, the manager may ask you for payment before the contractor starts work. The manager will also collect common charges and report any arrears to the owners. The manager must keep accurate records on work carried out on your property and provide you with details of payments made.
To help maintain a good working relationship with your property manager, you should make sure the manager is paid on time.
If you have any complaints about unsatisfactory work by a contractor, your manager should investigate them and tell you what they have done to resolve the problems.
If you have a complaint about the property manager, you should write to them and give them a chance to put things right. If you get a poor or no response, ask about the complaints procedure. It is not advisable to withhold payment, as your property manager may assume that you are simply a bad payer and take action to recover the debt rather than deal with the management issue. It may be safer to pay a disputed bill and ask for a refund on your next bill. If you get no satisfaction, talk with your fellow owners about changing your property manager.
3.3.5 What is the procedure for appointing or dismissing a manager?
The procedure for appointing or dismissing a manager will depend on your title deeds, but:
- regardless of what your title deeds say, a majority of two-thirds of the owners can agree to appoint or dismiss a manager;
- if your title deeds do not set out a procedure, a simple majority of owners (over half) can decide to appoint or dismiss a manager.
All owners are bound by the decision but those who disagree can appeal in specific circumstances. If you decide to dismiss your manager, be aware that the manager’s contract may specify a period of notice. You should also check the contract to see whether the float, or a portion of it, is to be returned to the contributing owners after the manager is dismissed.
There are special arrangements in three situations:
i. New developments: If your flat is in a new development, the developer may retain the right to appoint a manager for up to five years after the property is built. If the developer chooses to retain this right, the owners can appoint or dismiss a manager only after the five years are over, or when the last property in the development has been sold, whichever is the sooner.
ii. Sheltered housing: If your flat is in a sheltered housing development, the developer may retain the right to appoint a manager for up to three years. If the developer chooses to retain this right, the owners can appoint or dismiss a manager only after the three years are over, or when the last property in the development has been sold, whichever is the sooner.
iii. Buildings managed by a council or housing association: In the case of housing bought through the Right to Buy, the council or housing association has the right to appoint a manager for 30 years or until two-thirds of the properties in the tenement have been sold. They can appoint themselves as manager.
3.4 Common insurance
Under the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004, you must insure your own flat and your share of the common property so that you can meet your obligations to rebuild the tenement should you need to. However, in reality, you are adequately insured only if every owner is adequately insured.
To help protect owners, the 2004 Act gives owners the right to ask their fellow owners to provide evidence that they are insured to the full reinstatement value, with premiums fully paid. The reinstatement value is the cost of rebuilding the tenement rather than just its market value, which may be far less. You must request this information in writing and the owner to whom you make the request must produce the evidence within 14 days. If one owner is not properly insured, any of the other owners can go to court to enforce the obligation that they become properly insured.