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Once you purchase a property you become responsible for maintaining and repairing it, and it is therefore extremely important to establish the condition of a property before you put in an offer.
This is true for every property. However, if you are purchasing a flat it is essential to bear in mind that, not only are you buying the flat, you are also acquiring a right in common to the common parts of the building which will usually include the outside walls, the close, the back green and – most importantly – the roof. The condition of the common parts of the building should be just as important to a buyer as the internal condition of the flat.
How do you know if the common parts are in good condition?
The Home Report for a property will give only limited information on the state of the roof, outside walls and other common parts of the building. You should bear in mind that the Home Report is prepared on behalf of the seller who is keen to have a positive report and certainly not one which highlights any problems. The surveyor will usually make a vague general comment about the condition of the roof, often on the basis of an inspection from ground level. A prudent purchaser should therefore at least consider obtaining a report from specialist roofing contractors to verify the actual condition of the roof. If the Home Report indicates that other parts of the building need attention then it would also be wise to consider obtaining a report from the appropriate specialist contractors.
Outstanding Statutory Notices
You may also discover that there are outstanding Statutory Notices on the property indicating that repairs are required. This is fairly common for older tenements in Edinburgh. Previously the City of Edinburgh Council had a system whereby they would serve a Statutory Notice on the owners of all of the flats in the tenement with details of repair work required to the building. If the owners did not arrange for the repairs to be carried out themselves then the Council would arrange for the work to be done and would split the costs between the owners of all the flats in the building. Where a Statutory Notice was outstanding when a flat was sold, the sellers would usually be liable for this and a retention would be made from the purchase price to cover the costs of the work when it was carried out.
However, in 2010 the Council stopped carrying out work under Statutory Notices except in the case of emergency (see various press articles including this one). Therefore, nothing will be done unless the owners agree. In many cases the repairs required are not carried out and the building continues to deteriorate, leaving the owners with an even bigger problem when they come to sell.
A purchaser should think seriously before buying into a repair problem that is unlikely to be resolved soon. In extreme cases, such a problem may make a flat very difficult or impossible to sell.
Once you own the property
Suppose you buy a flat and then discover that repairs are required to the roof or another part of the building – what happens then? As the Council’s Statutory Notice scheme is no longer operating (except for emergency repairs), the owners will have to arrange the repairs themselves. Ideally, the owners will all take an interest in maintaining the common areas and will work together to ensure that any necessary repairs are carried out and that the costs are divided appropriately.
However, sometimes one or more of the owners will not agree to the repairs, or may be difficult to contact if they don’t live in the flat. Usually, repairs can be authorised by a majority of the owners, so it is not necessary for everyone to agree. Obviously, from a practical point of view, the agreeing owners will want to be sure that the non-agreeing owners will pay their share of the costs of the repairs. Given the inherent difficulties in obtaining payment from many different owners, some contractors will not carry out any work unless payment is made up front.
The issue of common repairs can therefore be difficult and time-consuming, and it is something that should be given serious consideration before buying a flatted property.
Lisbeth-Ann Pay is an experienced conveyancing solicitor who regularly advises clients on the purchase and sale of property, including many flatted properties. If you have any queries in relation to common repairs or any other property-related matter, please do not hesitate to contact her on 0131 554 8649 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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