Scottish Law Forcing Evictions

Scottish Law Forcing Evictions
Photo by Alex Azabache / Unsplash

How Retrofit Creates Resentment and Life Altering Outcomes

There's a story you get told as a kid, if you have any interest in Scottish history which will horrify you and make you wonder how it could happen.

But as a journalist, you invoke it with caution.

Scotlands history is littered with examples of heavy handed laws forcing Scots people out of their homes. It shouldn't be happening now?

In one of the more deprived areas of the Scottish capital. A policy that should be improving lives is making them hell. The aim of the UK retrofit programme is to make homes safer and more comfortable as well as energy efficient, but it has flaws.

Unchecked, in this case, the flaws could be replicated across Scotland forcing people out of their homes and onto the streets. Often, the most vulnerable are the likeliest to fall victim.

The very idea of retrofit and making your home a better place to live, could become unpopular.

But there are voices demanding to be heard and stand up to this injustice.

We met Mel Esquerre a homeowner from Edinburgh to find out more.

Mel works in construction;

"Being forced to retrofit my flat is a very baffling, “meta” experience." - Mel Esquerre.

Mel works in building carbon zero housing so knows all about the issues;

As a professional in the sustainable built environment, you couldn’t find someone more enthusiastic about reducing the carbon our buildings emit. I have spent my career working in social housing, energy efficiency and sustainability. I am your woman - there is nothing I want more than ensuring people live in healthy, safe homes that are easy to heat. I am also South American - you don’t have to convince me of the need to have a warm home in winter. - Mel Esquerre.

Mel has managed to save enough to buy a flat in the capital but she inhabits a tenement block that has a mixture of ownership.

Some of her neighbours are council tenants and some privately own their flats.

This is a common situation across the UK. It can present serious difficulties when improvements like cladding, post Grenfell, need changing. Who decides the budget and who foots the bill?

Everyone should have access to a safe comfortable home - Credit: 'Center For Ageing Better' Image Library

In Scotland it's got even more difficult.

Individual councils have been trialling different methods to overcome the challenges of improving the housing stock. Mel Esqerre lives in one of the two boroughs of Lochend and Restalrig chosen by Edinburgh council.

These are defined as areas where housing has is of such a poor quality (see the Scottish index of multiple deprivation SIMD) that it needs immediate retrofit in order to make the buildings warmer, easier to heat and mould free.

The council are using legislation framed in the 2004 Tenement Act (Scotland).

Click here to go the listed legislation. Copyright UK Government

The term for the project in Edinburgh is the Mixed Tenure Improvement Scheme.

The problem identified within Lochend and Restalrig is that the 'voting' system to have works undertaken is weighted against minority groups within a tenement. If a set of private tenants are in the minority then the council owners have a deciding vote.

The uncapped bills set by third parties represent a huge burden for private tenement owners. Living Rent, the Scottish tenants and community union issued an open letter to the council, highlighting their concerns;

The Council is effectively asking working class neighbours to foot an unexpected, uncapped bill of tens of thousands of pounds, pushing them either into debt, further fuel poverty, or having to sell up and leave their community. - Living Rent Open Letter

With median wages in Scotland dwarfed by the likely retrofit bills, an enforced retrofit is likely to leave homeowners with little choice but to settle up and leave.

An another significant effect of the system of enforced refurbishments is when Landlords choose to sell their private owned tenement back to the council to avoid a retrofit bill. And then there tenants are out.

This Edinburgh News article details one woman who was twice placed under the threat of eviction as her landlords were forced to evict tenants rather than foot refurbishment costs.

Single mum in Edinburgh has days left in home after being served eviction notice
Edinburgh single mum just wants to stay in the area for her kids

We return to Mel Esquerre to understand the personal cost to a homeowner, who wants to stay in their property but is left with no choice

My personal experience of this scheme so far has been one of pure anxiety and worry. Being told that I have to go ahead with the works, that the costs are possibly in the tens of thousands, that my opinion is irrelevant, that these works are going to be “done” to me whether I like it or not, is probably one of the most disempowering and belittling experiences of my life. - Mel Esquerre

This is an awful example of when a system doesn't work. Mel Esquerre is going to have to sell her home, leave Edinburgh and possibly leave Scotland.

The last time people where cleared from their homes and forced out. Well that precedent is one we shouldn't be repeating.

Retrofit is always about people, not buildings, people. - Mel Esquerre

If local councils, regional assemblies and national governments want to get retrofit to work. There will be mistakes, but don't make people worse off.