The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council is not at fault as it responded properly to a complaint of disrepair by a private tenant and had no evidence the landlord illegally evicted the tenant.
- The complainant, whom I will refer to as Mr X, says the Council failed to take action when he reported disrepair at his private rented tenancy. He also complains the Council failed to take action when his landlord illegally evicted him from that tenancy. He says the Council wrongly stated the police removed him from the property.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. If the Ombudsman is satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, she can complete her investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i))
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered the information provided by Mr X in his written complaint and during telephone conversations with officers of the Local Government Ombudsman. I have considered the Council’s response to the complaint and information it provided.
- Mr X and the Council had the opportunity to comment on a draft version of my decision before I made a final decision.
What I found
- Mr X had an assured shorthold tenancy in a shared ground floor flat. The three occupants of the flat had separate tenancies and so it was classed as a house in multiple occupation. In late January 2015 Mr X contacted the Council’s Housing Options Team alleging disrepair in the flat. The Housing Options Team told him to write to his landlord and give him 14 days to respond and then to contact the Private Sector Housing Team. Mr X contacted the Private Sector Housing Team 14 days later and explained his concerns; which mainly related to fire safety. An officer of the Private Sector Housing Team arranged to inspect the flat.
- The Housing Act 2004 sets out the Council’s duties when inspecting for health and safety hazards. The Council should decide if any category 1 or 2 hazards exist in the property. If a category 1 hazard exists, the Council must take enforcement action. The Government has provided guidance for councils on inspecting for and dealing with hazards under the housing health and safety rating system.
- The Council assessed the hazards at the flat following the guidance. Private Sector Housing consulted Building Regulations and the Fire and Rescue service. A Council officer re-inspected the flat with an officer from the Fire and Rescue Services. In March 2015 the Council wrote to Mr X’s landlord requiring information from him. It also included a schedule of work it wanted the landlord to start in April and finish by the end of June.
- The Council inspected again in early May and discovered the landlord had not started work. It wrote to the landlord saying it would serve a formal notice if he did not give a satisfactory response within 10 days. On 21 May the Council served an improvement notice on the landlord. The Council identified one category 1 hazard. This was the small size of Mr X’s room. It said the landlord had to reduce the number of occupiers of the flat to two individuals who could use Mr X’s room as a sitting room. Alternatively the landlord could let the whole flat to a single household. The Council identified category 2 hazards for falling on stairs, fire safety and a faulty electrical fitting.
- The landlord had 21 days to appeal against the notice and so the Council said he must start the work by 21 June and finish it by 21 August.
- On 15 July the Council wrote to the landlord to ask for access for another inspection.
- Mr X left the flat on 17 July and made a homeless application to the Council. The Council provided him with temporary accommodation. Mr X did not return to the flat. In October the Council discharged its homeless duty by making Mr X an offer of accommodation which he accepted.
- Private Sector Housing inspected and re-assessed the flat again in September and October. In September it found some work still outstanding and advised of possible legal action. In October it found the landlord had taken satisfactory action to address the identified hazards.
- The Council is not at fault. It did not fail to take action when Mr X made a complaint about standards at his private rented home. It followed its own policies and government guidance and took appropriate action in a reasonable time.
The alleged illegal eviction
- Harassment and illegal eviction is when a landlord acts in a way designed to force a tenant out of his home without following the correct legal possession process.
- In May 2015 Mr X’s landlord served a section 21 notice on him to end his shorthold tenancy.
- It is a legal requirement if a landlord takes a deposit from a tenant, to register the tenant’s deposit with a deposit security scheme. If the landlord does not register a tenant’s deposit, he cannot take possession proceedings on the grounds he has served a section 21 notice ending the tenancy. A landlord does not have to take a deposit from a tenant. If the landlord does not ask for a deposit from a tenant then this rule does not apply.
- In June Mr X told the Council’s Housing Options Team his landlord had taken a deposit but not protected this. He considered this meant the section 21 notice was invalid.
- The Council contacted Mr X’s landlord who said he had not taken a deposit. The Council advised the landlord on the need for a possession order.
- Mr X said he had proof in a text that he had paid a deposit. The Council says it asked Mr X for a copy of this but he did not provide it.
- Mr X also alleged his landlord had stolen from his room. Theft is a matter for the police not the Council.
- The Council says it spoke to the landlady about Mr X’s other allegations of harassment and warned her against harassing or illegally evicting Mr X. The landlady made counter allegations that Mr X had assaulted her husband and was going to court for this.
- On 17 July Mr X told the Council he had left the property because of harassment.
- On 19 July Mr X emailed the Council. He said on the 17th the landlord was pounding on the door and he told him to go away. He said both he and the landlord called the police. He said the landlord made a false allegation of assault which the police ignored, because if he pushed his landlord, it was reasonable force.
- Mr X made a homeless application on 20 July. The homeless officer’s notes say Mr X reported the police removed him from the property. The officer contacted the landlord, who confirmed the police attendance. The landlord said the police advised him to leave for a few hours and told Mr X to pack his belongings and give back the keys.
- The police charged Mr X for an alleged assault on his landlord. The case has yet to be heard by the court.
- The Council says it has no evidence of an illegal eviction. It says it has not established if the police removed Mr X. If the police removed Mr X, this is not an action by the landlord. It says it has no evidence the landlord forced Mr X to leave; Mr X either left voluntarily or because the police told him to. It says Mr X did not tell the Council he wanted to go back to the flat.
- The Council says it has no evidence Mr X’s landlord harassed him into leaving the flat.
- The Council is not at fault. There is no evidence Mr X’s landlord forced him to leave the flat on 17 July or refused to let him back in, so no illegal eviction the Council could investigate.
- There is also no fault in the Council’s response to Mr X’s claim of harassment. The landlord served a section 21 notice and told the Council he would follow the legal process for possession. The landlord had a legitimate reason to visit the flat. Mr H had reported disrepair and the Council had served an improvement notice on the landlord requiring work. Mr X says the landlord’s allegations of assault are false and part of the harassment. The allegations of assault are the subject of criminal proceedings. Neither the Council nor the Ombudsman can investigate the alleged assaults.
What Mr X told the Council
- Mr X says the Council wrongly stated he was homeless because of problems with his tenancy; when he considers he was homeless due to harassment. He says in response to his complaint the Council falsely stated he told it the police removed him from the flat.
- The Council decided the room Mr X rented was too small and ordered the landlord not to let this room to an individual tenant. To comply with this order, the landlord would at some point need to end Mr X’s tenancy. The landlord started the legal process to recover possession. The Council had no evidence of harassment; it had evidence Mr X’s room was too small and the landlord had started recovery action. The Council gave the correct reason for accepting the homeless application based on the evidence it had.
- I do not know if the police removed Mr X on 17 July. I cannot know exactly what Mr X told the Council when he made a homeless application. Mr X agrees the police were at the property. I see no reason the homeless officer would deliberately make false notes about what Mr X told him the police did when there. If the officer misheard or misunderstood this caused Mr X no injustice. What the Officer recorded did not affect the decision on Mr X’s homeless application.
- I have seen no evidence of fault by the Council. It properly investigated and dealt with Mr X’s complaint of disrepair and safety at his private rented tenancy. It had no evidence Mr X was illegally evicted or harassed by his landlord.
- I cannot know if a homeless officer wrongly recorded Mr X as saying the police removed him from the property, if he did this caused no injustice.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman