By Greig Fenton

AFTER the succession of storms and wintry weather we have endured recently, landlords and housing associations will be hoping the poor weather doesn’t present more serious, damaging, and long-term issues to their properties.

With winters in Scotland averaging a low of 0°C, freeze thawing – a process of erosion which occurs when water seeps into cracks in building masonry and then freezes, thus expanding and widening cracks – can become a major issue if stonework is not regularly inspected.

For correctly designed and maintained new-builds, freeze thawing shouldn’t be a problem. However, for Scotland’s vast number of historic buildings – 467,000 of which were constructed before 1919 – these natural mechanisms can cause structural issues leading to tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds in repair works.

The issue was recently laid bare in a report by the Scottish Parliamentary Working Group on Tenement Maintenance. It found that 68 per cent of Scottish housing shows evidence of disrepair to critical elements and, of this portion, as much as 36 per cent are in need of urgent repair. In Glasgow alone, the estimated cost of these repairs could be as high as £2.9 billion.

The issue is uniquely Scottish for various reasons. First, Scotland’s cold climate means buildings are prone to freeze thawing. Secondly, Scottish law currently places no obligation on owners of these ageing buildings to undertake any form of pro-active checking, maintenance or repair work. As a result, simple faults often go unnoticed or unchecked, resulting in a gradual worsening of the issue. Even if the issue is highlighted early on, owing to a lack of communication and co-ordination between tenants in non-factored properties, building owners often can’t afford, or are unwilling to pay, the cost of repairs.

Whilst a Scottish Parliamentary Working Group is currently exploring legislation – including potential subsidies and penalties – time is of the essence for landlords, factors and housing associations. Not only is it financially prudent to remedy building fabric issues before costs spiral out of control, but there is a duty of care owed by landlords towards their tenants to ensure that buildings are in a safe condition.

Once legislation lands, getting the skilled workers in place will also be increasingly difficult and costly, with a lack of specialist stonemasons in Scotland meaning they are often already stretched to the limit. On top of this, if buildings continue to be neglected, there may be an added risk to the general public.

It’s crucial for landlords, factors and housing associations to proactively manage this issue. By enlisting the early assistance of specialist and experienced surveyors who understand the intricacies of properly maintaining stonework, stakeholders will be in the best position to uncover and remedy issues before they become unrepairable. Not only does this financially-responsible approach represent best practice, it also allows for landlords to maximise the longevity of their investments and for factors and housing associations to reduce the cost of future claims.

By implementing a similar approach, building owners can more easily budget for future maintenance costs by taking account of specialist findings in the form of planned preventative maintenance schedules.

We work in a similar capacity with landlords and investors operating high-profile hotels, offices and residential premises across Scotland. From our perspective, in delivering specialist condition surveys and repair schemes, we will continue to counsel stakeholders to treat this important issue as a higher priority and work to limit costly repairs further down the line.

Greig Fenton is Associate Director, Thomas & Adamson