Private housing disrepair

This fact sheet is primarily aimed at people living in private rented accommodation who have reported disrepair to the council and are considering making a complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

My private rented property is in disrepair. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In some cases, yes. But first you will need to contact the council to give it the opportunity to investigate the disrepair you complain about. If you are not satisfied with the council’s response to the matter, you may complain to us.

What is disrepair?

Councils have powers under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System to take enforcement action against private landlords where the council has identified a hazard which puts the health and safety of the tenant at risk. Hazards include (but are not limited to):

  • damp and mould growth
  • excess cold or heat
  • pollutants
  • overcrowding
  • fire
  • risk from falls, and
  • electrical shocks.

Where the council identifies the most serious (‘Category 1’) hazards it is required to take action, but it may choose to take action about less serious (‘Category 2’) hazards

What should the council do?

Once you have reported the disrepair to the council, we would expect the council to promptly consider the matter. This would normally require a visit to your property so the council can inspect the disrepair and make an assessment of the risk to you. If the council identifies a hazard it will need to form a view on whether the hazard can or should be reduced, or removed entirely, and if this is not possible what further action is needed. Unless urgent action is required, the council should give your landlord the opportunity to put the matter right. If the landlord does not take the necessary action, the council should consider using its power to do the work or start enforcement action.  

I am a landlord. Will the Ombudsman investigate my complaint about repairs the council has asked me to make to my property?

Possibly. We can consider if the council did something wrong in the way it investigated a complaint of disrepair from your tenant and whether you were caused an injustice as a result. But, we would not normally investigate if the council takes enforcement proceedings against you. This is because most legal notices the council may serve against you have a right of appeal which we would generally expect to be used. 

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first.

Then, if you are unhappy with the outcome, or the council is taking too long to look into the matter – we think 12 weeks is reasonable – you can complain to us.

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

For more information on how to complain, please read our step by step process

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We will consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it responded to the disrepair you reported. For example, if the council:

  • took too long to inspect your property and/or take action against your landlord
  • did not take enforcement action when it had a duty to do so, or
  • did not keep you updated on its investigation.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds the council was at fault?

If we find the council did not deal with your case properly we will consider whether it should do something to put matters right. We may ask the council to:

  • take urgent steps to inspect the property or carry out the repair, or
  • assess whether enforcement action is required.

Sometimes we ask the council to make a payment. We may also recommend that it reviews the way it deals with similar cases.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Ms B complained the council did not take appropriate action against her landlord when she reported damp and disrepair at her private rented flat. We found the council visited promptly but did not keep a clear record of the inspection and the officer did not assess the damp issue. The council did not chase the letting agent to check the repairs had been completed or carry out a further inspection when Ms B contacted the council again about the continuing disrepair. We found this was fault. The council later carried out a proper inspection and identified category 2 hazards. The letting agent then arranged to complete the remedial work needed. We found the council’s delay in taking appropriate action caused Ms B injustice. It was possible the problems could have been fixed earlier had  there been no fault by the council. The council agreed with our recommendation it should apologise to  Ms B and pay her £300 to reflect the distress caused.
Ms C, a private landlord, complained the council unreasonably issued her with an improvement notice, identifying three category 1 hazards and requiring her to carry out repairs and remedial works. She said these issues were largely the tenants’ responsibility and the council had not taken sufficient account of the efforts she had already made to resolve the problems. We found no evidence of fault by the council in the way it responded to the tenant’s report and issued an improvement notice following its inspection and assessment of hazards at the property. But we found fault with the council’s record keeping for its visits and assessments and inaccuracies in the notice. The council agreed with our recommendations it apologise to Ms C for these faults and pay her £100 to reflect the upset caused. It also agreed to make service improvements by reviewing its procedures for keeping records of visits and assessments and reminding officers of the need to ensure accuracy when drafting improvement notices.    
Ms X complained the council failed to take proper action against her landlord when she reported serious disrepair – a faulty boiler, poor heating, mould and damp and excessive draughts – at her private rented property. The council inspected the property and completed an HHSRS assessment in December 2019, identifying two Category 1 hazards. It issued the landlord with a Schedule of Works. This was not completed within the specified time. The council did not take any formal action until July 2021, when it served an improvement notice. We found this delay by the council in taking formal action was fault. This caused Miss X injustice because she had to continue living in a property with Category 1 hazards for longer than necessary.  The council agreed with our recommendations it should apologise to Miss X, pay her £150 a month for the 14 months delay in taking action and £500 for distress and time and trouble. The council also agreed to remind its officers about the requirement to take formal action when a Category 1 hazard is identified.

Other sources of information

Government guidance on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System:

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please call 0300 061 0614.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

September 2023 

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