Gerry Boyd is a tower block resident and chair of the Rosebank Tower Property Council in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. As the owner of a flat which has suffered with various disrepair issues over the years – he describes his relationship with the Factoring managers, the local authority and talks us through his journey through the tribunals system and how he has joined up with his neighbours and local community to encourage collective action and joint participation on housing issues in his neighbourhood.
Welcome to the FixMyBlock podcast.
FixMyBlock.org is a project from Tower Blocks UK, created in collaboration with mySociety, funded by the Legal Education Foundation. The FixMyBlock podcast series captures the stories of tower block residents and community organisers around the UK.
Hello, and welcome to the FixMyBlock podcast. Today we’re talking to Gerry Boyd, who is a resident of a tower block near Glasgow. Hi, Gerry, thanks for joining us. I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself, how long you’ve lived in your block and a bit about the history of things there?
Yes, certainly. I came across my flat by way of my father-in-law, and the building is an ex-local authority flat. It’s a building of 72, 12 storey high, high-rise, built by Reema construction in the 1970s. My father-in-law was a tenant for a long number of years. And in 2008, he bought under the Right To Buy. Having done that, subsequently lived within his flat, when he passed away, the flat was passed to myself and my wife.
A little while ago, you very kindly agreed to write a blog for the Tower Blocks UK website. I was just looking at some of the biography, some of the history of the block there. One thing really jumped out at me which said as well as full-time resident caretakers, the 11 blocks, sister blocks contained laundry facilities. The local newspaper at the time said ‘the laundry will no doubt become the communal talking-shop of the housewives in each block.’ Which was jumped out at me, historical sexism aside, I wondered, are those shared laundry rooms still in existence today?
The shared laundry rooms are in existence, but no thanks to our current Factors. Just to backtrack slightly, the position in our block is that the local authority who owned the whole block to begin with, when they were built, subsequently some 19 out of the 72 were sold under Right To Buy. So the local authority remain as ‘Factors’. We don’t have leasehold and freehold. So those 19 flats that were sold, all have 19/72 share of all the common parts of the building. So instead of having a leaseholder or a freeholder with overall control, the proprietors of the 72 flats appoint a Factor. The local authority retains the right to say that they will be the Factor because they own at least one flat. So they’ve done that and they’ve continued to be a Factor for themselves and other proprietors. Now like many things that’s happened over the years, a couple of years ago, the Factor – being South Lanarkshire Council decided to rationalise the laundrys. They didn’t tell any occupants. They didn’t consult with any occupants. But as local authorities are pushed to make budget savings every year, this was one of the avenues that the local housing manager decided – here’s an opportunity to make savings. They branded it as rationalising, and they put it forward to the committee meetings of the local council for approval. Fortunately for us, they put in along with other job cuts, and because of that, the local Labour councillors voted it down. It was only after it was voted down, that we then saw minutes of meetings and realised what had been proposed. We then made an application under Freedom of Information request, and we ascertained that the proposal was to save the budget by rationalising your laundries. And what I mean by that is, when something would have broken down, that was it, they would no longer fix it. Going back to your original question, have the laundries been used and do they get used for gossip – yes, most certainly! And I have to say there are men that go in the laundry room!
I’m glad to hear that!
On FixMyBlock, we talk about the importance of collective action, the importance of getting to know your neighbours wherever possible. And I suppose the power that a group of people can have when it comes to taking action on issues, it’s much harder for a landlord to ignore you when there’s a whole group of people shouting about the same thing. But having said that, I understand that your blocks suffered some issues after cladding works were carried out, and despite residents complaining for many years, very little was done. Could you could you tell us a bit about that?
Yes, that’s correct. Until a year past Christmas here, we had a Tenants and Residents Association, and for years, the Tenants and Residents Association represented everybody in the block and beyond in the local area. After the cladding works and window replacements were done in 2012, they were supposed to stop the water ingression, which have been ongoing in the block for a long number of years, unfortunately, that didn’t work. And we were trying to get things done for years and years, and the local council, basically, to begin with, ignored everything. Then more individual started identify particular problems in their houses and they made efforts to rectify those. The Tenants and Residents Association made efforts to get the common areas fixed. So it was all boiling along and going nowhere. We started to make all sorts of threats about legal action. In 2016, the Tenants and Residents Association had their AGM, and we had hoped to ask further questions about what was being done to resolve issues. Nobody from our local authority attended that meeting and we were told when we asked why, that they didn’t feel it appropriate. We then were told ‘you should make inquiries with your title deeds if you are an owner’. So the 19 of us, went away and checked our title deeds, and we discovered we were all part of, what I am now in, the Property Council. We then made efforts to progress matters under The Factoring Scotland Act, going away from the tenants and residents who we felt had no further recourse, other than taking it to the local ombudsman, which is a very complicated and drawn out procedure. The Factoring Scotland Act provides a dispute resolution, which is quite simple and quite straightforward and it provides a legal assist that you can threaten to go to court or there’s a tribunal you end up in, and we did that and the local authority started pushing things with the contractors and subcontractor who had done the job. We gave them chances after chances and last year, they told us that they were going to court with the subcontractor. That did the job and the next thing we were told that all five blocks, which had been done in 2012/13, would be redone. The windows would all be taken out, the verandahs would be taken out and all replaced. That happened one block, they were 9/10ths of the way through our block when unfortunately, COVID kicked in in March, they will put off their job, and they’ve not been allowed back on since. So we’re waiting on them coming back, we’ve been assured that we will be back, and then after our block, they’ll go through the other blocks methodically to do them all.
This sort of goes back to something that I say quite often, which is that it’s one thing to have rights as a resident or a tenant, that in enshrined in law, if you like, but it’s quite another to know how to enforce those rights necessarily. That can be quite a difficult process. So the Rosebank Tower Property Council was established in 2017 and you’re the secretary of that. Can you just tell us a bit about your role and sort of the day-to-day work that you do and how the property council came about?
The Property Council, when nobody from a local authority attended the Tenants and Residents Association AGM we’ve went away and we read through our title deeds as owners. The title deeds are really quite specific about how the owner should be represented. How voting matters should be decided, and how any work of the Factor should be carried out. It lays out that the Factors are entitled to do repairs, renewals and replacements. The Factor is not entitled to do any improvements. Improvements can only be authorised by the Property Council. It lays out your voting procedures, it lays out how many meetings you must have, what you’re quorum or minimum members must be etc, etc. We meet the quorum by virtue of the local authority being on the Property Council. As soon as they turned up, that’s us got a quorum, because they represent 53 houses. Initially, we had a couple of good results, because of various things, we complained about the cladding and we took that on board for tenants and residents because we envelop the whole building. The council then decided again, without consultation, that they would replace the lighting in the building and the emergency lighting. They told us costs would be £1100 per flat for homeowners. We took that on board and discussed with them that they had not followed the procedures in the title deeds and we would go to the tribunal. After some discussion, and I have to say very little discussion, we were offered 20% off and then we will offered 50% off. So instead of the owners paying £1100 it ended up being only £400 pounds, which for what were getting was probably a bargain. So that gave the the owners the impetus to be involved with the Property Council and we all asked them to come along to one AGM per year and devote a very small committee. In the past three years, we’ve really had a good attendance, probably out of our 19 private owners we’ve probably had 15, and that’s not bad, because we’ve got one sublet that we don’t even know who’s got it, and a couple of others who just decide not to participate.
I want to ask – what’s been the attitude of the South Lanarkshire Council towards the Property Council, overall and generally?
The previous Factoring Manager was excellent. Openly discuss things, followed exactly what was contained in the title deeds and what the provisions of the Factoring Scotland and the code of practice that goes with it. Delighted with him. The local area housing, who supervise the cleaning and the caretaking and investment? No, I think it comes across to me that their attitude is ‘who do they think they are? This is our building’. Prior to the start of the Property Council, I arranged a meeting with the caretakers supervisor and the local housing officer. Their attitude was ‘What are you doing here? Because we own the building’ I said ‘well, no you don’t. You own 53/72 of the common parts. We own the other common parts and it’s laid out how we should decide what happens with it.’ ‘No, no. Once you’re beyond the flat door, that’s the end of it – away you go’. To a large extent they’ve continued with that view and they’ve continued working, in our view, so much so that the Caretakers Coordinator Supervisor, he no longer speaks to us, which is disappointing.
Yeah. Very. I saw on the Rosebank Tower Property Council Facebook page, that you recently undertook a survey of residents and the way that you worded it was just to spell out that the residents in your block are paying for the service through their rents and service charges, and do they think those services are being efficiently run? And I thought that was – it really kind of, centred in on something that we don’t often think about as tenants – that we’re paying for a service. A lot of the stigma attached with social housing and tower blocks is that people are ‘living for free’. But we’re paying into a system and quite often not getting the services that we’re paying for. So in terms of that survey, first of all, I’m curious just to find out how you overcame the challenges presented by the Coronavirus and restrictions just in terms of getting residents to engage with that survey.
Well, what we did was we put an advanced notice on the foyer notice boards that we were going to do a survey, and then we basically dropped them through the letterbox. That was it, we asked them to drop them in at their houses. And that was it – there was no follow up, going around everybody’s doors and chapping doors and phone calls to say ‘have you completed it’? There was nothing. That’s why I think the returns that we got were quite remarkable given the concerns of the Coronavirus despite the fact that we didn’t actually go chap the door and collect the things. We said to them – there you go, if you’re interested, fill it in and just put it through that letterbox and it was getting the people, the occupants in the building to actually do the work and go out their way to deliver it. I think that showed that people do care about their blocks. Just as you mentioned there, you know, this idea that people live in social housing, and they think Och! What’s the point? Well that’s not the case, a large number of people do care and do care quite strongly about what happens in our block and where they live.
And nobody knows the blocks better than the people that live in them. Have you noticed that since the COVID restrictions, I know you mentioned the the issues with the with the major works, but with sort of minor problems, are you finding that it’s taking longer for the landlord to respond and attend and send people out?
The local authority have recently started back by doing housing repairs, primarily urgent repairs within flats of their tenants. Repairs to the common areas tend to be left. Early on, I think it was about April time, the front door, the secure entry doors stopped working and it was open to everybody. We requested that be fixed and we were told that the contractor that they use had closed because of COVID, and it wouldn’t be fixed until COVID was over. This went on for ages and ages. It was only when one of our other occupiers contacted the company direct and was able to ascertain, if you classify that as being urgent, they will come out and fix it within days. So he phoned me, we phoned the area housing and said look, this can be done within days. The occupant says ‘I’ll pay for it, get it done and then bill the local authority.’ They managed to get the contractor out within days. So it can be done, there are other minor repairs which have been highlighted and we’ve been told – ‘they will get done when we do routine repairs. If it’s not within a private property, if it’s part of the common area then it’s not urgent, it’s on the backburner.’
Going back to FixMyBlock. At the moment, as you know, it covers housing law in England and Wales. And we’re looking to expand it to cover Scotland, because it’s obviously a separate legal jurisdiction with different housing laws and so on. So we would seek to replicate some of the tools that we have like the template letters to landlords, information on what legally constitutes a property as fit for human habitation and so on. Do you think that something like that would prove a useful resource for residents in your block?
It possibly would. A couple of things – you’ve got the Tenants and Residents Association umbrella, they’re called the TIS. So they assist tenants. We don’t have a Tenants and Residents Association, but individual tenants could still go via them and they would assist and try to address things. We would try and assess, but we work slightly differently because we are owners. If we were to take anything to the tribunal, you know, under the Factors Scotland Act, there are templates and they were provided as part of a package by the Govan Law Centre. And there’s an advocate, solicitor advocate there called Mike Dailly and they have some online materials and some resources, and it’s very much similar to what you’ve got. It’s templates but it’s geared towards templates for writing a complaint under the Factoring Scotland Act. The process under that legislation is quite clearly laid out – you’ve got to complain to the Factor first and have him basically, not address the complaint. You can then make a second stage complaint. If the same thing happens, then you put in your application to the first stage tribunal and the Govan Law Centre do provide templates that you can use. I have to say, I’ve been there and it’s very straightforward. It’s relatively simple. I attended the tribunal in February. Yeah, in February, and it was very relaxed. There’s a lay person and a qualified person who chair the tribunal and then, that occasion there was myself and the council had the Factoring manager and their legal representative, a lawyer. It was to do with the Factoring charges, basically, they said that I was right. They made an order saying – yeah, the council had failed to carry out their duties and they made an order on how to rectify it. The Council have appealed it, so we are now going to the upper tribunal at the end of November. I’m quite happy because I have been through the process. I’ve seen how simple it is. I’ve seen how relaxed they try and make it, albeit as a formal thing. And it’s free. It doesn’t cost owners a penny to take it. There’s a quite defined dispute resolution. So it’s quite good.
I think that’s something that can be quite intimidating to tenants and residents, the idea of taking legal action against your landlord. Because obviously, not many people are involved in taking legal action on a day-to-day basis, so it feels like a massive step. And sort of an unknown world of the potentially complex, potentially expensive path to go down. But that’s not always the case, as you demonstrated, I suppose, in your case and your story. So that’s good to hear.
I think that’s most definitely the case. The only thing I would say with Tower Blocks UK and with FixMyBlock, as you read through, it’s the same issues. Tower blocks throughout the UK have the same issues. Usually is dampness, usually there’s concerns about gas. We’ve got gas in our block, and a couple of years ago, Scottish Gas Networks came in and moved everybody’s meter from inside their flats to the chute rooms. So we have six meters in the chute rooms. Again, nobody was consulted. We were just told this was needed and it was done. Eventually, I emailed somebody, Scottish Gas, I ended up down in London who came back and says ‘well, we don’t think it’s done to current standards, but we will come out and do some remedial work.’ You just think it’s all the same issues, people don’t communicated with, they don’t get kept informed as to what’s happened. They don’t get an opportunity to get involved in the debate and decisions within their blocks. Decisions on their lives, and that really struck me about tower blocks, as I say, throughout the country it’s like that. Locally, we’ve got four blocks and the central Cambuslang area, and we’ve got one area going and one of the other blocks is actively trying to pursue – setting up a Facebook page. I think a Facebook page. Tower Blocks – just raise your issue. Point and issue. How did you resolve it? That could be great. I don’t know. I’m saying Facebook, that’s because I don’t tweet and I don’t Instagram. But I think there’s a fantastic opportunity. Because we’ve all got the same issues.
After Grenfell we attended and we’re a part of the Scottish Government Tenants and Residents Panel on Fire Safety to feed in tenants and residents views post Grenfell, and there are people there from different blocks throughout the country from Aberdeen to Greenock. It’s all the same issues, it’s the same issues about maintenance. There were some people there who were delighted with the maintenance and delighted with their caretaker service, and consequently, they had a much higher, a much better feeling about their block. There were others there who felt, probably the same as us, more can be done, a lot more can be done. And if those tasked with maintaining the building looked upon it as, not simply – ‘ah it’s just a corridor.’ It’s somebody’s building, it’s somebody’s home. But I think, reading FixMyBlock, you know, it’s all the exact same things, it’s all about repairs not getting done, it’s concerns about fire safety, it’s concerns about neighbours, it’s concerns about antisocial behaviour because if it starts and you let it get a grip then you’ve lost it and it’s very, very difficult then to retrace and regain the building for the better.
I mean, that’s certainly what led us to try and design a service, because, as you say, these problems are so common throughout the UK. It’s the same things that we’re coming up against, mould, damp, disrepair, fire safety concerns, gas safety concerns.
I’d like to find out how other folk got on, what improvements can be done, what good work can be carried, and you know, how issues can be resolved. That’s where we are all living and we all want to try and make the most of the facilities in the block, try and keep them as good as we can, and try and make the enjoyment of the houses as good as possible.
Yeah, definitely. Well, I hope that, and I’m sure that your story and the things that you’ve shared, will help other inspire other people, and help other people that are listening to this to maybe follow some of the advice that you’ve given, or try some of the paths that you’ve tried. But I just want to say thank you for taking the time to speak to me, and for sharing your stories and a bit of your history there. I really appreciate it, so thank you.
Thank you, I appreciate the opportunity.
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