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 the Ombudsman.

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 to the Ombudsman about the council’s response to disrepair at her private rented property. Ms B complained that the boiler kept cutting out and the landlord had never arranged for it to be serviced. Also, there was no gas fire or central heating, some lights did not work and there was damp in the bathroom. We found the council took 11 months to visit Ms B to inspect the defects. This meant Ms B had to wait longer than needed for the defects to be repaired. Also, when it did inspect the property, the council did not categorise the repairs into Category 1 and Category 2 hazards. We asked the council to apologise to Ms B for its delay inspecting the property and pay her £500 for the lost opportunity of having the repairs carried out earlier. We also asked the council to classify defects as either Category 1 or Category 2 hazards as soon as practical after an inspection. The council agreed to our recommendations.
Mr S complained to the Ombudsman about the way the council carried out an inspection of his private rented property under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Mr S told the council that his landlord had not undertaken all the necessary repairs at the property. The outstanding defects included unreliable hot water, a leaking roof, and internal door locks that were difficult to use. A council officer inspected the property and identified two Category 2 hazards relating to the leaking roof and a loose banister on the landing. Mr C complained that the landlord and agent were also present during the inspection and they influenced the council officer. Mr C also complained that the council had not ensured that the landlord undertook the repairs the council identified. We found no fault with the way the council carried out the inspection or the action it undertook afterwards. The council was required to give the landlord notice of the inspection and there was no information to suggest the officer took into account irrelevant or wrong information when assessing the defects. Also, the officer did follow up the outstanding repairs with the landlord. But, as the officer did not identify any Category 1 hazards, the council had no duty to require the landlord to resolve the outstanding issues.

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.

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.

July 2016