Reducing the “R” rate: Coronavirus and Tenement Flats

This is a think-piece on possible next steps for policy makers on releasing the Lockdown taking into account the particular needs of those who live in flats of all kinds in Scotland. we welcome your thoughts and views

About Under One Roof Scotland

Under One Roof Scotland  is the impartial website for flat owners and their advisers in Scotland.  We are substantially funded by LAs and Scottish Government and the value of the website has been recognized in a number of Scottish Parliamentary debates. 

We have recently provided some coronavirus related articles and newsletters as the guidance from the Scottish Government left many unanswered questions for flat dwellers.  These articles have covered issues such as close cleaning and disinfection; where “home” starts if you are a flat owner who needs to take their bins out; how to negotiate new house rules with your neighbours  eg over shared use of the back garden and alternatives to bulk uplifts that don’t involve shared and highly pressurised back gardens being filled with rubbish.

Why this note and now?

It has been mentioned recently that one of the suspected causes of the continuing high R rate in Scotland is the number of people living in tenement properties (flats) (  This, along with comments received via email and social media have led us to consider a number of factors that the Scottish Government and Local Authorities could consider in developing policy.

We would like to open discussion around the following:

  1. More guidance specific to flat dwellers 
  2. Wearing face coverings in common areas (and supporting social enterprises (including social landlords) and mutual support organisations to make or procure and distribute these 
  3. Maintaining cleanliness in common areas 
  4. Contact tracing issues 
  5. Guidance on policing common (shared) areas 
  6. Consideration of guidance on viewing flats made available for let and sale 

Not connected with reducing the incidence of coronavirus, but still coronavirus related, we would also like to suggest that there be some discussion about how to address one of the short comings of Universal Credit payments to flat owners that could lead to flat owners being unable to meet their legal obligations to maintain and insure as required by specific law relating to tenements in Scotland. (See paragraph 7)

Guidance to flat dwellers

Following issuing our articles and newsletters, we were contacted by anxious and Covid 19 vulnerable flat dwellers who were fearful of leaving their flat in a block with a high occupancy of young people.  When was the government going to issue posters telling people how to behave in common areas they asked? 

If our advice were to be made in to a poster to put up in tenements or blocks of flats it could read:

Cover your face in common areas in your flats

Organise with your neighbours to share tasks and common spaces fairly

Vulnerable neighbours need your support and protection

It’s in your hands to take these steps

Disinfect high touch areas like handrails and keypads daily


Face coverings in common areas

Even if food is being delivered to flat dwellers, they still need to go out of their flat to empty the bins. 

As lockdown is loosened – or perceived to be loosened – there is likely to be more visiting and more traffic through common areas.

It is impossible to maintain social distancing in common areas such as stairs and lifts and it is almost impossible to arrange not to come across someone on the stairs.  The contact time is likely to be short but it will be face to face, someone could be breathing heavily as they climb stairs and the enclosed space of a lift must be danger zone.

Could people be encouraged to call out before they leave their flats? And then not go out unless there is no-one else there?

Could it be recommended that, as in shops, people are asked to cover their faces in common areas? 

Could it also be recognised that there is an overlap between flats and areas of deprivation and therefore a way found of providing face coverings to flat dwellers?  Could local social enterprises and mutual support organisations who know the specifics of need and opportunity in their local areas be supported to obtain finance through the Wellbeing Fund or  The Supporting Communities Fund  to procure non-surgical face masks (preferably through local makers) and that these organisations are also charged with distribution. And perhaps these groups could also distribute posters to put in common areas of flats?

Maintaining Cleanliness in Common Areas

We have issued advice on how to clean and disinfect the common stair. However we were unable to get any official advice and guidance beyond what was publicly available on the internet which said nothing about frequency of disinfection.  So we advise disinfection at least once a day – many social landlords are cleaning high touch areas every 2 hours.  Flat dwellers need some scientifically based advice.

The issue of the provision of hand sanitizers has also been mentioned with reference to South Korea where they are placed in every lift.  There is probably too little infrastructure to maintain such things in privately owned tenements.  Would advice to wash your hands before leaving your flat as well as on return be appropriate?

Contact tracing

We have concerns that even the most sophisticated contact tracing technology could have unintended impacts on flat dwellers as both GPS and Bluetooth systems can identify multiple flat dwellers at one address as being at risk of infection from an unknown / anonymous neighbor – potentially one that they have had no actual contact with.

This suggests a need for personal intervention from official contact tracers not just to trace someone’s movements but also to identify the precise nature of risk in each block. There are resource issues: in areas with a substantial number of flats, more contact tracers will be required.

Guidance on policing common areas

Legally, common areas in block of flats are neither private nor public – they are shared communal areas.  It is not clear therefore whether people meeting in the common areas – including the gardens – are breaking the lockdown regulations over public gatherings.  The risk to other neighbours comes from the increased traffic in the confined space of common areas. More guidance should be given to Police Scotland and to flat dwellers on this issue.

Opening up the Housing Market through rent and house sales

While many letting agencies are being innovative in arranging virtual tours of flats, this will never be a satisfactory substitute for an on-site inspection, particularly where the sale of flats is concerned. Under One Roof, amongst many others, has been advocating that flat purchasers should be carrying out far more detailed checks than many do currently when purchasing a property.  It is important that potential flat purchasers have a clear understanding of the precise condition of a property and the arrangements for tenement management so that they pay a price that allows them to afford their share of common repairs and factoring fees.  This cannot be done without proper inspection and without speaking to owners, neighbours and factors.  

All this is incompatible with keeping people out of the common areas. We will consult with site users to see what issues this raises for them but wonder if it will be sufficient to ask estate agents and viewers to wear gloves and face coverings and to wipe down handrails and doors knobs with disinfectant wipes after every viewing.

Universal Credit (UC)

While UC is an issue reserved to UK Government, the Scottish Government has the power to ‘top-up’ reserved benefits – which it is using to bring in the Scottish child payment. Could this power also be used to deal with owner’s housing costs, specifically, common repairs and common insurance which are probably, but not definitively , included in the definition of “service charges” .

Owners have a legal duty to maintain their properties under the Tenements (Scotland) Act 2004.  They also have a legal duty to hold adequate common insurance.  This legal requirement is in place to protect these owner’s neighbours and co-owners.

If one owner cannot participate in common repairs or pay their common insurance premiums then other owners in the block will very probably not participate in essential repairs and there will be a bigger house condition problem building up.  And if there is damage that would normally be covered by common insurance - eg a fire - then there would probably be no common insurance to cover the reinstatement of the building.

In England, owner-occupiers who are leaseholders can get help with service charges paid as a housing element within Universal Credit. They normally have to serve a waiting period of approximately nine months from the date of your Universal Credit claim before they can receive this help.  There is the same waiting time for getting mortgage interest paid but building societies are expected to offer a payment holiday. We do not see how builders or factors or maybe even insurance companies can offer payment holidays. The cost will fall on neighbours who may only be marginally better off than those who are in receipt of UC.

We would like to see payment made to cover these service charges from Day 1, potentially via direct payment as bills are presented.

Adding your thoughts and ideas

Please email Annie Flint ( if you can help us refine these ideas and identify unintended consequences or additional priorities. We will then promote this thinkpiece with relevant policy makers.