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London Borough of Hillingdon (19 019 162)

Category : Housing > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 13 Jan 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complained about the condition of a garage she rented from the Council. She also complained the Council communicated poorly, failed to take action, and did not fully respond to her complaint. The Ombudsman found no evidence of fault in the way the Council responded to Mrs X’s reports about damage to the garage she rented.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complained about the condition of a garage she rented from the Council. She said it was leaking and flooded, meaning she could not use it for 7 months until the Council carried out proper repairs.
  2. Mrs X also complained about the Council’s poor communication, lack of action to resolve the issue, and failure to fully respond to her complaint.
  3. Mrs X paid rent for 7 months when she could not use the garage. She would like to a refund.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have considered the following:
    • The complaint and the documents provided by the complainant.
    • Documents provided by the Council and its comments in response to my enquiries.
    • The Council’s Garages Letting Notice and Conditions of Tenancy.
  2. Mrs X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

  1. The Council’s website has a page about its garage rental service. This confirms it lets out garages for vehicle or personal storage. The Council does not guarantee the condition of any of its garages. Any goods stored within them are entirely at the owner’s risk. The council does not accept any liability for any loss or damage.
  2. The Council’s letting notice, signed by Mrs X, states:

‘the tenant accepts that the landlord will not provide insurance cover for the garage…or articles stored therein and that use of the garage is entirely at the tenants own risk.’

  1. A tenant may end the agreement by giving the Council 7 days’ notice.

What happened

  1. Mrs X rented a garage from the Council in May 2019 for £37.50 per week. She intended to use the garage to store her children’s toys, general household items, food shopping, and winter things. Mrs X signed her lettings agreement on 2 May 2019.
  2. Shortly after taking the garage Mrs X realised it was leaking. She reported the leak to the Council on 22 May 2019. She said the whole roof leaked when it rained, the gutters were blocked, and her goods stored in the garage were damaged.
  3. The Council inspected the garage on 6 June 2019. It said it repaired a section of the roof and needed to inspect again when it rained.
  4. Mrs X contacted the Council on 11 June 2019 to say the roof was leaking again. The Council inspected the garage on 17 June. It considered there was no leak to the roof, but water was running through the wall at the rear and side of the garage. The road flows towards the garage at the rear, and two drains were blocked.
  5. Mrs X contacted the Council on 23 August 2019. She asked it to clear the drains to the garages, as they were full of mud. The Council cleared the drains the same day.
  6. Mrs X complained to the Council on 4 October 2019. She said she noticed a leak straight after renting the garage. She reported it, but no one came out to look at the problem for five weeks. Two weeks later someone came and told her they had fixed the problem. However, when it rained the leaks started again. Seven weeks later someone came out to inspect the leak again. They said water was coming in from the wall, not the roof, and the guttering needed fixing. She said this was in July and still has not been fixed. She said she had been chasing the Council for updates, but no one gets back to her. She also said her children’s goods had been destroyed by the flood water.
  7. The Council acknowledged Mrs X’s complaint and said it had passed it to the housing repairs team to respond.
  8. The Council inspected the garage on 9 October. It said it would renew the fascia and gutter joint. It checked the roof for leaks, then arranged for a contractor to clear the drain to the right of the garage as a car was blocking access.
  9. Mrs X telephoned the Council on 16 October. She said someone inspected the garage but told her nothing was wrong. She pointed out the problem and they agreed to raise a works order. That was over a week ago and nothing had happened. She said the Council was not taking things seriously and she wanted it treated as a formal complaint.
  10. Mrs X emailed the Council on 24 October 2019 to chase up the repair work. She said the Council was not providing the service she was paying for. The Council’s contractor cleared the drain to the right of the garage on 28 October.
  11. Mrs X emailed the Council on 6 November 2019. She said six weeks had passed and the Council had not cleared the gutter or taken action.
  12. The Council responded to the complaint on 21 November 2019. It apologised for the delay. It said it read Mrs X’s complaint, the case notes, and got reports from officers involved. It confirmed:
    • When Mrs X first reported the leak, a roofer attended and repaired a section of the roof. Mrs X reported water was still coming in. The roofer returned but could not find any defects so arranged for someone else to inspect.
    • Another officer attended on 9 October 2019 and found rainwater drains around the garages blocked. One was under an abandoned car. The officer also noticed unrelated defects to the fascia and guttering. The drains were unblocked on 28 October and the guttering was repaired on 6 December.
  13. The Council said it hoped this added work would resolve the issue.
  14. Mrs X made another complaint on 26 November 2019. She said:
    • From May to June, she called the Council several times, but no action was taken. When she complained, a manager was supposed to call her but didn’t.
    • After an inspection in June, seven weeks went by with no action. Someone else inspected the garage in August and said it was the drains. They ignored her complaints the water was coming through the roof.
    • Someone was supposed to fix the guttering on 5 November but did not turn up. When she called the Council about this, she said the work was rearranged for 6 December.
    • The Council’s complaint response had not addressed the concerns she raised. She said she had not been able to use the garage since June, but she has continued to pay for it. She asked for her money back.
  15. The Council sent its stage two complaint response on 3 December 2019. It summarised Mrs X’s complaint as she had been reporting a leak since June 2019, but the problem remains.
  16. The Council repeated what it already told Mrs X about the inspections and repair works. It could not clear the drains at first because an abandoned car was blocking access and the Council had to arrange to move it. It said a further visit has been arranged for 27 December to paint the fascia and this should correct all issues complained about.
  17. The Council said it was sympathetic Mrs X had been unable to use her garage since June. However, it said officers had attended and taken action to resolve the issues. It offered her £100 as a gesture of goodwill.
  18. On 13 December 2019, Mrs X reported the garage was still leaking.
  19. Mrs X emailed the Council on 7 January 2020 about its complaint response. She said it had not answered the main point of her complaint, about how long the repairs took. She said there was still a leak, despite the repair work, and a contractor had confirmed there is a leak in the roof. She asked the Council to reconsider its offer of £100, as she had paid £1,339 so far in rent.
  20. The Council inspected the garage roof on 6 January 2020. It found the roof appeared to be leaking through the fixings and joints. It arranged for a roofing contractor to attend.
  21. The Council responded to Mrs X on 8 January. It signposted her to the Ombudsman. It also said, following Mrs X’s report of a leak on 13 December 2019, an inspection was carried out on 6 January 2020 and the Council has requested liquid coating works to the roof. This will be done by a contractor as soon as possible.
  22. The contractor completed the work on 14 February 2020. They bandaged over the roof fixings and joints and then liquid coated the roof.
  23. Mrs X brought her complaint to the Ombudsman on 14 February 2020. She told me when she reported the leak to the Council, it would book repair appointments and then cancel them or not attend. It took the Council seven months to agree to do repairs. She was unhappy with the Council’s offer of £100 as a remedy.

Response to enquiries

  1. The Council told me it inspected the garage before it was let to Mrs X. It has no record of any reports of a leak from person who rented the garage before Mrs X.
  2. The Council said tenants must keep the garage they rent clean and tidy. If a garage needs repairs or maintenance, this can be reported to the Council.
  3. The Council aims to complete all non-emergency repairs within 20 working days. In this case the repair was inspected within that timescale but had to be passed to a sub-contractor as the Council cannot work on asbestos roof sheets.
  4. The Council’s records state the repairs were completed on 14 February 2020. No further leaks have been reported. The Council is satisfied the roof was correctly repaired.

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Analysis

  1. The Council inspects garages before it lets them out. It does not guarantee their condition, however. There were no complaints about leaks from the previous tenant of the garage Mrs X rents. There is no evidence the Council was aware of the leak before it let the garage to Mrs X.
  2. I appreciate Mrs X is unhappy. She reported the leak at the end of May 2019, and it was not fixed until February 2020. This meant she could not use the garage for her intended purpose.
  3. Initially, the Council said it carried out repairs. After that, it did not think the roof was leaking. It thought water was running through the wall to the rear, where the road flowed towards the garage and drains were blocked.
  4. The Council cleared the drains in August and October 2019. On both occasions it did this within 20 days of Mrs X’s complaints.
  5. The Council accepted the roof was leaking on 6 January 2020. This was following Mrs X’s report on 13 December 2019. It did not complete the repairs in 20 days, it took about two months from the date of Mrs X’s report. However, it said it needed a contractor who could work with asbestos roofs. Given the Council needed to arrange a roofing contractor I do not consider there was an unreasonable delay.
  6. Mrs X feels the Council should have carried out effective repairs straight away, and that it did not accept the roof was still leaking after the first repairs. I am not a roofing expert, so I cannot decide what action should have been taken. I do not consider there is evidence for me to criticise officers or roofing contractors for their opinion about the cause of the leaks.
  7. From the evidence I have seen, the Council did respond to Mrs X’s reports about the leak. It is unfortunate the first repair was not successful, but I don’t consider there is evidence to say the Council was at fault for that. I haven’t seen evidence of any undue delays, or an occasion where the Council refused to inspect or carry out repairs. It was an ongoing process to find a solution. Unfortunately, it took longer than either party would have liked or anticipated. I appreciate Mrs X did not receive the service she wanted, but I have not seen evidence of fault.
  8. Because the Council could not repair the roof effectively for 9 months, Mrs X feels she is entitled to a refund of the rent she paid.
  9. The Council’s first complaint response did not adequately deal with Mrs X’s concerns about the rent she paid while she could not use the garage. However, its second complaint response did consider this, but the Council decided to offer only £100 as a gesture of good will.
  10. There is nothing in the terms of the letting agreement, or in the Council’s policy, which says it must offer a refund if it cannot repair a garage straight away. Mrs X had the option to end the agreement by giving only seven days’ notice if she was unhappy. While I appreciate Mrs X’s frustration about the time it took the Council to fix the problem, I do not consider there is evidence for me to say the Council must offer a refund.
  11. The Council’s terms clearly state it will not accept liability for damage to belongings stored in its garages. If Mrs X thinks she is entitled to recover damages due to negligence, she will need to make a claim with the Council’s insurers or take legal action. I cannot judge whether Mrs X’s property was damaged because of an act or omission by the Council.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I found no evidence of fault in the way the Council responded to Mrs X’s reports about damage to the garage she rented.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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