London Borough of Enfield (16 010 050)

Category : Housing > Private housing

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 13 Feb 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained the Council failed to take action against her landlord for the condition of her property. The Council identified several less serious hazards and made the landlord aware of these. It was under no duty to take enforcement action. The Council is not at fault.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains the Council did not take enough action to resolve disrepair issues affecting her previous private rented accommodation. She feels her family had to endure dangerous living conditions for a prolonged period as a result.

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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. I have spoken with Ms X and considered her written complaint and the Council’s response to my enquiries.
  2. I have written to Ms X and the Council with my draft decision and given them an opportunity to comment.
  3. I have considered:
    • The Housing Act 2004
    • The Council’s Housing Enforcement Policy

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What I found

  1. Private tenants can complain to a council about the failure of a landlord to keep the property in good repair. The Housing Act 2004 gave Councils powers under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to inspect and assess the condition of tenanted properties.
  2. Hazards assessed under the HHSRS fall into two categories. The most serious hazards are classed as category 1, with less serious hazards being category 2. If a council identifies a category 1 hazard in a property it must take the appropriate enforcement action. This can be to serve an improvement notice saying what the owner must do to stop the hazard. If a council identifies category 2 hazards it has the power, but not a duty, to take action.
  3. There are several notices available to councils that require an owner to comply with requirements related to category 1 or category 2 hazards. These include:
    • Hazard Awareness Notice- gives formal notice that a hazard exists. The notice does not have to be acted on but a council can take further formal action should an unacceptable hazard remain. This notice is most commonly used for category 2 hazards.
    • Improvement Notice- requires remedial works within a specified time and must, as a minimum, remove category 1 hazards.
  4. Government guidance says if a landlord agrees to take the action required by a council it might be appropriate to wait before serving a notice. This is unless the landlord fails to start the work within a reasonable time.

What happened

  1. In 2015 Ms X was the private tenant of a rented property. On 15 June 2015 she told the Council about several issues with the property, including:
    • Mould and damp throughout the property.
    • A smell of rot in the bathroom.
    • The shower not working properly.
    • Water coming in through the front and back doors.
    • Damage to a gas pipe.

Ms X said the landlord refused to fix the issues.

  1. The Council sent the landlord a letter on 19 June 2015 and visited the property on 6 July 2015. Ms X’s landlord replied to the Council on 8 July saying he was willing to carry out the necessary repairs.
  2. Following the Council’s visit to the property it wrote to the landlord on 14 July 2015. It detailed the issues identified and said it would check the progress of works. The Council sent a copy of the letter to Ms X.
  3. The Council met the landlord at the property on 22 July. At this visit he provided the Council and Ms X with a current gas safety certificate which remained valid until November 2015. At the same time the Council conducted a formal HHSRS inspection of the property. The inspection identified several category 2 hazards but no category 1 hazards.
  4. Following the visit the landlord started work to address the issues in the property. On 24 July 2015 he also sent the Council a copy of an electrical installation condition report from April 2015, with no significant issues.
  5. Ms X called the Council several times over the next few days to report unhappiness with the work being carried out and issues over access for the landlord’s contractors. On 3 August 2015 Ms X asked the Council to provide a written schedule of works.
  6. The Council sent the landlord a hazard awareness notice and proposed schedule of works on 4 August 2015. The Council laid out a 14 day schedule for the simpler work and a 31 day schedule for more complex issues. The landlord replied the same day agreeing to the schedule.
  7. Over the following weeks the landlord struggled to arrange access with Ms X to enable him to complete the identified works. On 7 September the landlord contacted the Council to say he had appointed a lettings agent to manage the property from now on. The agent contacted the Council to arrange a meeting of all parties, however, Ms X refused to meet with the agent saying her contract was with the landlord.
  8. Ms X put in a formal complaint to the Council on 24 September 2015. An officer from the Council spoke to Ms X to discuss the issues raised. The Council told
    Ms X it was satisfied the landlord was willing to complete the necessary works.
  9. Ms X agreed to meet the agent at her property on 30 September 2015 to discuss all the outstanding issues. Following the meeting the agent and landlord continued to work towards completing the works, however Ms X remained unhappy at the standard of work and the tradesmen being used.
  10. A new gas safety certificate for the property was issued on 13 November 2015, no issues were identified. The Council continued to facilitate contact between Ms X and the agent over the coming months. Throughout this time the Council told Ms X it was satisfied the landlord and agent were addressing the identified hazards and trying to complete work. The work included:
    • Installation of new boiler and hob.
    • Stripping out and refitting the bathroom.
    • Inspection of the electrical installation and correcting of identified issues.
    • Installation of carbon monoxide detector
    • Work to identify the source of damp in a wall between the kitchen and living room.
  11. Ms X remained unhappy with the work. The Council escalated her complaint for a final stage review on 16 June 2016. The Council met with Ms X on 28 June to discuss the complaint further.
  12. As part of its response to the complaint the Council agreed to carry out a further HHSRS inspection of the property. It arranged this for 19 and 26 July 2016. The new inspection identified several category 2 hazards but no category 1 hazards. Following the inspection the Council met with Ms X again and sent her a final summary of her complaint on 27 July 2016. Ms X confirmed her agreement with the summary by email.
  13. Ms X moved out of the property on 15 August 2016. On 26 August the Council sent the landlord a second hazard awareness notice detailing the category 2 hazards identified during its last inspection. The notice also contained advice on what action the landlord could take to address the hazards.
  14. The Council responded to Ms X’s complaint on 26 August. It did not uphold the complaint. It said the Council had acted in accordance with the HHSRS guidelines by issuing a hazard awareness notice. Ms X remained unhappy with the Council’s response and complained to the Ombudsman.

My findings

  1. The purpose of the HHSRS is to assess all the main housing related hazards. It recognises that all homes will contain some hazards. The HHSRS provides a means of assessing homes which reflects the risk from any hazard. It allows a judgement to be made about whether the risk in the particular circumstances is or is not acceptable. The assessment is solely about the risk to health and safety and not about the quality or standard of any works.
  2. The Council conducted two formal HHSRS inspections of Ms X’s property in 2015 and 2016. Each inspection identified several category 2 hazards and no category 1 hazards. I have found no evidence to question the assessment the Council’s officers made in assessing the property.
  3. The Council has the power but is under no duty to act on category 2 hazards. The Council brought the identified hazards to the landlord’s attention. It did this through a hazard awareness notice. It decided the hazards were not serious enough to warrant it serving an improvement notice. This is a decision it is entitled to take. The landlord and his agent engaged with the Council and were willing to undertake the works. While the works took longer than expected a second HHSRS inspection confirmed most issues had been resolved and drew the landlord’s attention to the remaining category 2 hazards.
  4. While Ms X is unhappy with the scope and quality of the work the Council’s only duty was to ensure there were no category 1 hazards in the property. The Council was not responsible for the upkeep or repair of the property. It drew the landlord’s attention to the work needed and checked the progress of the work. It was under no duty to take further action and was satisfied the property was not a danger to Ms X or her family. The Council is not at fault.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation as there is no evidence of fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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