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Arun District Council (20 013 607)

Category : Other Categories > Commercial and contracts

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 30 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mr C’s complaint that the Council breached the terms of a garage licence agreement by not repairing a leak in the garage roof. This is because the courts are in the best position to decide the issues Mr C complains about. Mr C may put in a money claim to court and we find it is reasonable for him to do this.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I will refer to as Mr C, complains that the Council refused to repair a leak in the roof of a garage he rented from the Council. Mr C says the Council breached the terms of the garage licence agreement which says the Council will maintain and repair the garage. Mr C says the Council has wrongly decided to end the tenancy because it considers the garage is beyond economic repair. Mr C also says the Council’s offer of compensation is not acceptable.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. The Act says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mr C’s complaint form and the complaint correspondence between Mr C and the Council. I have also sent Mr C a draft version of this statement and invited his comments in response.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Mr C entered into a licence agreement to rent a garage from the Council. Mr C says the licence agreement said the Council was responsible for maintaining the material condition of the garage in a safe state.
  2. In late 2019 Mr C contacted the Council because the garage roof was leaking. Mr C says he had to buy a cover to protect his car which he stored in the garage.
  3. Mr C says when it became clear the Council was not going to repair the garage within a reasonable timeframe, he asked for a reduction in the rental charge. Mr C says the Council at first said it would accept this proposal but only if Mr C accepted full liability for any damage to his car while it was in the garage. Mr C said this would be a breach of the Consumer Rights Act so he was not willing to accept liability.
  4. In October 2020 Mr C made a complaint to the Council. Mr C asked the Council to repay all the rent he paid for the garage, which was approximately £4,700, and to terminate the tenancy of the garage. Mr C said in the alternative, the Council could continue the tenancy at 50% of the rent until it has repaired the garage.
  5. The Council’s response included the following comments:
    • The nature of the construction makes it impracticable to repair the garage, so the Council must terminate the rental agreement. The Council would give Mr C notice before ending the agreement.
    • It offers Mr C a refund of 50% of the rent for the garage for a 12 month period. It would not charge Mr C rent until the expiry of the notice.
    • It does not agree to Mr C’s requests for either a full repayment of the rent he paid or a 50% discount until the roof is repaired.
  6. Mr C did not consider the Council’s offer was acceptable, so he complained to the Ombudsman.

Assessment

  1. The issues Mr C complains about are legal matters which the courts are in the best position to decide. The role of the Ombudsman is to consider complaints about administrative fault. Only a court can decide legal disputes including whether a party has complied with a licence agreement and if not, the amount of compensation a party should pay. Unlike the Ombudsman, the court can also order a party to pay compensation.
  2. So, Mr C may take the Council to court by making a money claim. I find it is reasonable for Mr C to do this, particularly because the fees are relatively modest in relation to the compensation Mr C seeks.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because Mr C may take the Council to court and it is reasonable for him to do this.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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