In Scotland, property owners have a duty to maintain the common areas of their property (chief amongst which, the roof) and that’s not an easy task.

Many shared blocks – “tenements” in legalese, whether or not they are the old-style tenements you’re thinking about – have fallen into disrepair due to owners not paying sufficient attention to them.

According to BEFS (Built Environment Forum Scotland), up to a half of tenements in Scotland need critical repairs today and nearly a third are in need of urgent attention.

In Glasgow, the vast majority of properties have factors (professionals who deal with the maintenance and repairs of common areas) who are responsible for making sure that the building is safe and as comfortable to live in as possible.

However, in many areas of the country, including Edinburgh, factors are less prevalent. The charity Under One Roof estimates that a half to two-third of blocks in Scotland are self-factored, which means that block’s proprietors come together to carry out repairs and maintenance, or at least, that’s the theory.

The problem with self-factored blocks is that unless someone in the building takes a very proactive approach to looking after it, and other owners follow with a lot of goodwill, often nothing gets done… and when that’s the case, consequences can be catastrophic.

In 2019, the City of Edinburgh Council attended to fallen masonry around the city 17 times on a very windy day. These were 17 blocks that nearly fell on people’s heads, with potentially fatal outcomes.

Tenements in poor condition also drastically reduce the selling price of flats, and owners that sell could still be liable for the cost of some of the outstanding repairs they leave behind.

So, if you live in a tenement and your block doesn’t have a factor, you are responsible for driving repairs and maintenance yourself. To help you do so productively, here are the five most important things you need to know about self-factoring (providing we’re not talking about an emergency).

Check all title deeds before you do anything

Getting repairs over the line is about following a process and where common repairs are concerned, you must check liabilities in all property’s title deeds (at a minimum, all the ones you can find online on “ScotLis”).

Why? Because specific provisions in your title deeds take precedence over the Tenement Management Scheme.

And why is that important? Because it can cost you time and money.

Imagine this: you do a big roof repair costing £50,000. You divide everything equally. You get three quotes from contractors, get a vote done, start gathering payments. One person doesn’t pay, but you’re OK, as you access the council’s “missing share scheme,” so that the work can still go ahead. The council receives your application and… rejects it. That’s because they checked your title deeds, and those specified that you had to calculate liabilities based on “rateable value,” and not assume an equal share. Now, unless you want to pay the missing share yourself, you need to start all over again, from scratch. Any money you gathered needs to be refunded. You’ve just lost two months and annoyed all your co-owners.

In short: check your and others’ title deeds before you get started, and compare them. If they’re confusing, get legal advice.

Don’t rush to get quotes, get organised first

When you have an issue, it can be natural to want to know ‘how much will it cost to fix?’, and the reflex is to phone up a contractor asking for a quote.

However, the answer is always: ‘it depends’. What kind of fix do you need? A patch repair, or a comprehensive one? Is the issue you’re trying to fix hiding another bigger issue elsewhere? Do you know all the problems that your building has, and if you fix one thing, would you save money fixing another at the same time?