An elderly couple who have lived in the same Leith flat for 54 years have accused a city charity of using ‘underhand’ tactics to force them out.
The couple, who have used their own money to upgrade the flat over the years to install central heating and a shower, wish to remain anonymous.
But they say that their landlords, the Agnes Hunter Trust, should have told them of its decision to sell off most of its Leith property before asking them to change their tenancy agreement.
A letter they received in November 2014 asked the couple to switch from their relatively secure ‘Assured Tenancy’ to a ‘Short Assured Tenancy.’
If the couple had agreed to the switch in November they believe the Trust could have tried to force them out with just two months' notice.
The November letter, sent by the Agnes Hunter Trust’s property agents, Retties, presented the change as a benefit to the couple.
It says: “I note that it is only Mr B’s name on your current Tenancy Agreement and I would prefer to change this so that both of your names are on it.
“As it is Mrs B’s main place of residence you really should both be named on the lease anyway.”
When the couple took independent advice on the letter they were told not to sign it as it would be of "no benefit" to them.
Mrs B said: “When I got the letter I thought to myself, 'there’s no way they’re going to do that'. I went to the Citizens Advice and they showed me the Housing Scotland Act 1988.
“The tenancy agreement is just in my husband’s name, and they [Retties] said that as the flat was my main place of residence that my name should be on it as well, but what it says in the Housing Scotland Act is that it would pass to me anyway.
“I wrote to Retties after I got the letter to say that I’d taken advice and that there was no benefit to us to change our tenancy agreement. We never got an answer to that letter.”
The couple are among the longest tenants of the Agnes Hunter Trust, a grant giving charity that uses money from their rent to support a number of health and social welfare projects, having lived in the same flat for 54 and a half years.
At one point, they say they had 17 relatives living in flats nearby.
“They must have thought that they wanted us to change from an assured tenancy to a short assured tenancy because it’s a way to get us out,” Mrs B added.
“I just feel that it was all really underhand.”
The Agnes Hunter Trust did not write to its tenants until the following June to confirm that it planned to sell off most of its flats in Leith.
The couple say they raised their concerns over the letter in a face-to-face meeting with the Chair of the Trust after the announcement, but did not receive an apology.
Additionally, they say the Trust is failing to keep their flat wind and water tight.
They claim the windows in the flat are so old that they will not close properly. Also, they say the render around the window frames has weathered to the extent that water can get into the buildings.
Mrs B added that the whole process has been “really quite upsetting, having lived here for so long.”
Melanie Weigang, Secretary of the Lorne Community Association - a group formed to halt the property sell off and establish a new housing co-operative to buy the Leith properties - says that they have no way of knowing how many of the Agnes Hunter Trust tenants have received similar letters.
Mrs Wiegang said: “There was no need to ask to Mr and Mrs B to change their tenancy. To do this prior to sending a letter to all tenants letting them know that all the properties would be sold up speaks for itself. It’s clear that their intention was to serve notice on Mr and Mrs B.”
A spokesperson on behalf of The Miss Agnes Hunter Trust sought to distance the charity from the letter, and said it was sent in error by their agents, Retties.
They said: “There was no instruction from the Trust to their agent to convert regulated or assured tenancies into short assured tenancies.
"The Trustees have always recognised that there is a body of regulated tenancies which have security of tenure and this has been regularly referred to in communications to tenants.
“A regulated tenancy cannot be converted into a short assured tenancy and the AT5 form issued with such a lease clearly indicates this.
“In the case concerned, the agent working with the tenancy details in their possession at the time, suggested a lease in the sole name of an elderly tenant is unwise where there is a couple as the death of the tenant potentially leaves the widow/er without a lease at all.
"As the underlying tenancy is a regulated tenancy dating from 1976 the suggestion of a new lease made no difference to the couple’s security and was offered in good faith to ensure both occupiers were correctly named on a lease document.
“In order to avoid any potential for distress arising from incomplete tenancy records, the Trustees have taken steps through their agents to ensure that all regulated tenancies are correctly identified so that the tenants concerned can be fully assured that they have security of tenure and are not affected by the sales programme.”
The Trustees of the Agnes Hunter Trust announced that they would put a halt on the flat sales in October and have given the Lorne Community Association until January to present a convincing bid for the Leith flats.
However, the LCA say they need at least 12 months to undertake the work required.
The group has raised a petition at the City of Edinburgh Council calling on the council to "do everything possible within its powers, including financial support, to support the tenants to save the community and to set up a housing co-op."
To date, the petition has gained more than 980 signatures, with those in the community calling the Trust sell-off programme "The Leith Clearances."
Retties did not respond to a request for comment on this story.