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St Albans City Council (19 014 728)

Category : Planning > Building control

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 11 Feb 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr Q’s complaint about roof repairs the Council did at business premises he leases from the Council. This is because the complaint is late, and because Mr Q may go to court.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I have called Mr Q complained about roof repairs St Albans City Council did to a business premises before he took on the lease. He believes the repairs do not comply with building regulations, and the Council is in breach of its contract with him.

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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. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. The law 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 considered the information Mr Q provided. I discussed the complaint with Mr Q. I considered Mr Q’s responses to a draft of this decision.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Mr Q leased business premises from the Council in 2014. Shortly after signing the lease he had a roof leak into the premises. Mr Q said the leak caused £20,000 worth of damage.
  2. Mr Q believes roof repairs the Council did before he signed the lease did not comply with building regulations. The Council said the roof does comply. It denies responsibility for the leak and the damage to Mr Q’s property.
  3. Mr Q believes the Council should repair the roof and compensate him for the losses he incurred because of the roof leak. He said the Council was in breach of contract.
  4. Mr Q complained to us in 2019. He told me about the business and personal difficulties he has faced since the roof leak in 2014, and why these prevented him from complaining to us sooner. He also said that the cost of going to court was prohibitive. Mr Q told me his complaint was about the Council’s unwillingness to act in a timely manner. He also said a building regulations certificate the Council gave him in 2019 for the roof is fraudulent.

Analysis

  1. We will not investigate this complaint.
  2. The substantive events Mr Q complains of – the roof leak - happened in 2014, but he did not complain to us until 2019. He said the complaint was about the Council’s unwillingness to act in a timely manner. If Mr Q thought the Council was taking too long to deal with his concerns, he could have brought his complaint to us much sooner. I recognise he had significant personal and business difficulties. But the complaint is late and there are no good reasons for us to consider events so long after they happened.
  3. In any event, we will not investigate Mr Q’s complaint because he may go to court. His lease is a legal document (he calls it a contract) which sets out the Council’s repairing obligations. If Mr Q believes the Council has failed to meet its repairing obligations – or has breached its contract – and that failure resulted in damage to his property, that is a matter for the courts to decide, not us. He may include his concerns about the roof not being compliant with building regulations in his claim. He may also include his concerns about the building regulations certificate in his claim.
  4. I recognise it is expensive to go to court and this may cause some difficulties for Mr Q. But it is not our role to enforce the duties set out in a lease: that is a matter for the courts. The courts can also decide how much, if anything, the Council should pay Mr Q if his claim is successful. So, it would be reasonable for Mr Q to go to court.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Mr Q’s complaint for the reasons given in the Analysis.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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