As an owner of property you are legally responsible for any accidents caused by defects in your building. If you are the owner of a flat in one of the older tenement buildings in Edinburgh you may already be aware of the “Statutory Notice” procedure operated by The City of Edinburgh Council. Statutory Notices are served under the terms of the City of Edinburgh District Council Order Confirmation Act 1991. A Statutory Notice issued by the City of Edinburgh Council (“the Council”) is a means of alerting and informing owners that a problem has been identified relating to their building and that repairs require to be carried out.
Until recently, if it became obvious to an owner that repairs to the building were required and agreement could not be reached with the other owners in the building to carry these out, the next step was to contact the Property Conservation Section at the Council and request that the Department take over the organisation of the repair works. This would then trigger the enforcement stage of the statutory notice procedure and the service of a statutory notice on all the owners in the building.
The current position is that the Property Conservation service, which issues statutory notices and organises repairs, is under review and the subject of an independent investigation. While the investigation continues, the Property Conservation service is only dealing with emergencies and repair works which have already commenced. What may constitute an emergency might include: situations where there is a risk of falling stones, bricks, slates etc; buildings at risk of collapse; possible dangers to public health; and blocked or defective sewage systems.
If you own a flat in a building over which there is an outstanding statutory notice, what should you do? It is worth knowing that if you are planning to sell your property, the current practice is that the seller is liable for the cost of any repairs relating to statutory notices issued prior to the date of conclusion of the missives in the sale to the purchaser. The purchaser’s solicitor will want to see an up to date estimate for the cost of the repairs and will retain from the purchase price the estimated cost of the seller’s share of the works plus an additional 25%, the purpose of which is to cover any increase in costs. Depending on the nature of the repairs the retention could be a substantial sum. It should also be borne in mind that if a building which requires repairs is neglected and the repairs delayed, there could be further deterioration and the final costs could be significantly higher.
It is obviously in the best interest of owners to maintain their building and carry out repairs as and when required. Your first step should be to contact your co-owners and try and discuss, and agree, how repairs can be carried out. The City of Edinburgh Council website contains useful information and guidance on how to organise communal repairs. This could apply equally to repair works which have just been identified or repairs relating to an outstanding statutory notice which has not been enforced. If the repairs are in relation to an outstanding statutory notice it is vital to ensure that the repairs carried out cover what is detailed in the wording of the statutory notice. Once the works have been completed the owners must provide evidence to the Council that this has happened (including receipted invoice from contractor detailing repairs carried out and confirmation from the majority of owners that they are satisfied with the works carried out) and ask that the notice is “lifted”. If this is not done the statutory notice will continue to appear as outstanding.
If your property is currently the subject of an outstanding statutory notice or in need of repair, it is in your interests to be proactive. The notice will not “go away” and what may have started off as a minor repair may develop into a much bigger problem!