More than half of tenants reported having problems in the previous year, and half of those reported that they had not been resolved, according to the housing regulator, raising concerns about safety in Scotland's 600,000 socially rented homes.

According to a recent study for the Scottish Housing Regulator, which the Herald obtained, 59% of respondents said they had experienced safety issues, with nearly one in four describing these as "significant."

According to the regulator's own national panel study, which included more than 260 people, the most common safety concern, cited by 44% of respondents—including roughly 1 in 10 for whom it was a "significant" concern—was dampness or mould. The study was conducted to assess tenants' experiences.

About 1 in 6 respondents brought up additional safety issues, such as stair access, electrical safety, and fire safety. Approximately 1 in 20 people said the issues were "significant".

Feedback indicated that dampness and mould had been a problem for some time, but the regulator claimed that "recent news coverage may have contributed to a particular awareness of this safety issue."

Nearly half of those who had reported safety concerns said their landlord had not addressed the problem, though some involved concerns that had only recently been reported and that the landlord was working to address.

Others, on the other hand, claimed that their landlord's response was "inadequate".

Up to 46% of the panellists expressed doubt about the landlord's capacity to address a safety issue.

This included a number of participants who had voiced concerns about mould and dampness and who, according to the regulator, "expressed significant frustration over their landlord's response."

The safety analysis, according to the Scottish Tenants Organisation (STO), was "very disturbing," and it was necessary to take action because the vast majority of tenants were genuinely concerned about their safety, with one in ten of them receiving significant damp and mould surveys.

Housing campaigners Living Rent said the analysis was "staggering", adding: "Disrepair and poor safety are not the fault of tenants. We need this government to enforce strict legislation on disrepair and commit to introducing retrofitting schemes across the country to ensure that we have access to warm, dry, and safe homes."

The regulator has written to landlords, asking for a "clear statement" on their 2023 assurance statement that they meet all duties in relation to tenant and resident safety. In particular, they ask for confirmation of compliance with all relevant safety requirements, including those in relation to gas, electrics, water, fire, asbestos, damp, mould, and lifts.

It comes after concerns surfaced about a north-south divide over housing standards after the death of toddler Awaab Ishak, which ushered in tough legislation forcing landlords to fix damp and mould in properties within "strict new time limits".

While landlords in Scotland have been given non-statutory guidance that is not enforceable, new laws proposed by housing secretary Michael Gove that will set deadlines for addressing mould and other repairs will only apply to England and Wales.

Other laws south of the border give the social housing watchdog more authority, including the ability to levy a limitless amount of fines against landlords who don't uphold standards.

This incident occurred after the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishak in December 2020 from a respiratory condition brought on by prolonged exposure to mould in his Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH)-managed home.

The housing regulator had written to landlords offering suggestions on how to address the issue, advising them to "consider the systems they have in place to ensure that their tenants' homes are not affected by mould and dampness and that they have appropriate, proactive systems to identify and deal with any reported cases of mould and damp timeously and effectively."

Aditi Jehangir, secretary of tenants group Living Rent, said: "It is clear to everyone in them that our social housing is in serious need of repair. But for close to two thirds of tenants to have safety issues, it illustrates how successive governments have allowed landlords to get away with completely neglecting their responsibilities at the expense of tenants’ safety. Through failing to invest in social housing, landlords are allowing our homes to become dangerous, unsafe, and uninhabitable.

"The fact that nearly half of respondents said they were unsure of whether the landlord would fix the problem shows how landlords' systematic underinvestment and failure to make sure that our homes are warm, dry, and safe has put tenants' lives in danger.

"Electrical problems and poor fire safety pose a serious risk to human life. As fall approaches and heating costs remain unaffordable, the problem of mould and damp in our homes will only worsen. Instead of blaming the tenants, landlords need to fix the mould on their properties."

In order to determine the full scope of the issue and find a permanent solution, Sean Clerkin of the STO added: "All social landlords in Scotland should be required to conduct stock condition surveys."

The analysis also revealed that 28% of respondents did not agree that they had faith in the landlord's ability to address any safety issues. And almost a third (31%) said they lacked confidence in their ability to act swiftly when safety issues arose.

Some claimed that their landlord had advised them to adopt new habits, like opening windows and/or turning on the heat, to solve the problem.

Few people claimed that their landlord had added extra ventilation, but they felt that this had been ineffective because of the subpar quality of their heating system.

Tenants connected dampness and mould issues with a home's inability to be heated, including inadequate insulation and ineffective heating systems.

The regulator found that people with chronic health conditions and/or those who mentioned their home having severe and ongoing mould problems were particularly concerned about mould issues.

Some of the tenant panel members who had been exposed to extensive and persistent mould said they had been told it was their responsibility to take care of the problem.

Several members of the panel admitted to trying to prevent the problem, such as by using damp traps, opening windows even in cold weather, and keeping their heating on for longer than usual.

Others had to regularly use chemical cleaners to deal with the problem.

However, some people complained that they had only had sporadic success in stopping dampness and had been unable to get rid of any mould that had grown.

One man who has a severe mould allergy and has been asking to be moved out of his southside Glasgow home is still waiting after being offered a flat that, in the words of an independent inspector, "does not meet the Scottish Housing Quality Standard."

Alex Gordon was given a flat where, according to Kristine Reilly-Blake, a certified indoor air quality environmentalist, there were four types of mould present, "that are a known hazard to human health," including aspergillus, to which the tenant had an allergy. His doctor claims that Alex Gordon's current home has been negatively affecting his health.

Following the release of the inspector's report's specifics, Wheatley Homes Glasgow stated that the apartment was undergoing significant renovations and that the family had been given top priority for relocating.

According to a spokesman for the Scottish Government, more tenants are now living in homes that are warmer, safer, and dryer as Scotland's social rented housing has improved over the years to meet the Scottish Housing Quality Standard.

"Social landlords are already required to adhere to the Scottish Housing Quality Standard, which stipulates that homes must be dry, adequately ventilated, and adequately insulated, as well as that all requests for repairs must be completed promptly. Scotland's Housing Regulator keeps an eye on compliance. 

In order to identify best practises for preserving tenant safety and dealing with dampness and mould, the regulator is currently collaborating with social housing providers. It is anticipated that updated guidance will be published soon. Tenants can take their complaints to the Scottish Public Sector Ombudsman if landlords don't comply.

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