Since a thumping 2019 General Election win, the Conservative government has pursued a reckless war with freeholders in England. Its strategy, seemingly only adopted to win political capital, will remove professional oversight in apartment blocks, putting residents’ safety at risk while significantly increasing the number of dilapidated buildings.
You only have to look at the situation north of the border to see this first hand. Scotland has never had an equivalent to the role a freeholder plays in relation to flats in England, instead preferring a residential-led model of ownership akin to commonhold.
Residents must raise funds from others in the block to carry out repairs, regardless of which apartments are affected, and some can dispute which parts of the buildings need communal funding, making effective property management almost impossible.
Without a third party, as in leasehold developments, neighbours are forced to take legal action against each other to ensure repairs are carried out.
These issues, plus the lack of a maintenance culture and increasing levels of low-income owner occupation, mean what would be straightforward repairs for an independent freeholder to solve are rarely addressed. This has been reflected by reports suggesting that 80% of Scotland’s apartments need some form of repair, with 50% in ‘critical disrepair’.
These numbers cast doubt on the benefits of phasing out England’s leasehold system and diminishing the freedom of choice for residents to pick their preferred system. The disregard of complex blocks must not be repeated in England for the sake of short-term political gain, especially given the current lack of suitable housing stock.
This situation in Scotland highlights professional freeholders’ vital stewardship role, providing oversight and co-ordination, while removing the burden on individual leaseholders to solve issues themselves, which often requires funds, time and expertise.
Whitehall’s war with freeholders is counterproductive and does nothing to solve the building safety crisis. As the government continues to pursue leasehold reform, it is critical to learn from the problems in Scotland.
Mick Platt, director, The Residential Freehold Association