Eviction threats lifted as charity decides against selling Leith homes

Agnes Hunter TrustTenants in Leith who were facing eviction after a charitable trust put their homes up for sale have been given a reprieve.

In October last year around 200 tenants in Lorne Street were given four months statutory notice to quit and find alternative rented accommodation after the Agnes Hunter Trust decided to put their homes up for sale.

The Trust, which owns over 100 flats in the street, had decided to dispose all of its properties over the next three to four to re-invest the income and with a view to increasing the amount available for distribution to charities.

However, the Trustees of the charity have now decided not to proceed with the planned rolling programme of individual sales of the Trust’s property portfolio in Leith.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the Trustees on Thursday 19 May and affects 59 properties owned by the Trust in the Lorne Street area which are let on short-term tenancies. As a result, the moratorium of not serving any further “no fault” notices to quit, which was set for a deadline of 1 July 2016, will now be extended indefinitely.

The Trust has written to the Lorne Community Association (LCA), a co-operative established by the residents in a bid to raise funds to buy their homes from the Trust, and the tenants to assure them it will not be issuing any further “no fault” notices to quit.

The Trustees made the decision after careful consideration to decline an offer made in December by Port of Leith Housing Association (PoLHA) to take over the property portfolio as it proved impossible to conclude a deal which would have worked for both parties.

The Trustees said they remain open to considering other options such as an approach by another housing association, registered social landlord or by a tenants’ co-operative.

Walter Thomson, chairman of board of Trustees of the Miss Agnes Hunter Trust, said: “Our original decision to sell the properties was taken to safeguard the ability of the Trust to maintain its ability to make grants to charities in line with the purposes outlined by Miss Agnes Hunter when she set up the trust in 1954.

“Unfortunately a bid from The Port of Leith Housing Association provided impossible to conclude a deal which would have worked for both parties.

“However, while we continue to seek to sell the property portfolio, the Trustees have decided not to issue any further notices to quit to individual sitting short-assured tenants.”

Tenants of 16 properties who are on a regulated or assured tenancy were not included in the programme and their security of tenure was never affected.

Port of Leith Housing Association said it was “naturally disappointed” at the outcome but hoped that an alternative solution can be found.

Keith Anderson, chief executive of Port of Leith Housing Association, said: “Port of Leith Housing Association have, over the past few months, carried out a detailed assessment of the issues and including an independent survey of the condition of all the property in question. This has informed its judgement of what future repairs and improvements would be necessary in order to maintain the appropriate standard for these homes and continue to make them available to let at affordable rents in future.

“Unfortunately the Agnes Hunter Trust has now decided it is not able to proceed with discussions with the Association and we are naturally disappointed at this outcome. We hope however, that the Trust can identify a suitable alternative solution which meets the needs of the Trust and its residents.”

The Scottish Greens, who raised the plight of the Lorne Street residents in the Scottish Parliament, warned that the threat of eviction may still hang over the tenants.

Green housing spokesperson Cllr Steve Burgess said: “While I am pleased that the Trust has removed the threat of en masse evictions, they should never have been threatened in the first place. In the last nine months the Trust has undermined faith in its capacity to be a landlord and caused huge anxiety for its tenants.

“And it begs the question of what next? Tenants are no clearer as to why a potential bid from Port of Leith Housing Association has not been acceptable to the Trust. Nor is it clear what the prospect is for other housing associations to take over as landlord.

“All in all, this sorry episode has shown the Trust to be incapable of managing and maintaining its properties properly. So going back to square one, as is suggested, hardly seems like a good outcome.”

Established in 1954, the grant-making Charitable Trust was set up in the Will of Miss Agnes Hunter with the sole purpose of financially assisting charitable organisations which support health and social welfare in Scotland.

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