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.

You should normally make your complaint to us within 12 months of realising that the council has done something wrong

For more information on how to complain, visit our contact page or complete an online complaint form.

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 that the council did not take appropriate action against her landlord when she reported damp and disrepair at her private rented flat. Ms B said the problem had been ongoing for seven years. We investigated what happened from August 2017. We found the council visited promptly but did not keep a clear record of the inspection and the officer did not assess the damp Ms B complained about. Also, the council did not chase the agent to find out what it was doing about the problem. In addition, the council did not visit again after Ms B contacted the council in April and June 2018. This was fault. The council later did a proper inspection of the disrepair and identified category 2 hazards. The agent agreed to do work to put right these defects. We found Ms B suffered distress and uncertainty because of the council’s delay taking action. This is because it was possible the problems could have been fixed earlier if there had been no fault by the council. The council agreed to apologise to Ms B and pay her £300 to reflect the injustice she suffered.
Mr S, a private landlord, complained about the council issuing him with an improvement notice, which required him to do repairs at his property and pay a charge of just under £300. Mr S said his tenants left shortly after the notice was issued, so the works were not needed. Mr S wanted the council to cancel the charge. We did not investigate Mr S’s complaint. This is because Mr S had a right of appeal to a tribunal against the Improvement Notice. The council told Mr S about this right of appeal. We found it was reasonable for Mr S to put in an appeal to challenge the Improvement Notice.

Other sources of information

Government guidance on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System: www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/9425/150940.pdf

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.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides 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 the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

October 2019