Housing complaints by private landlords

This fact sheet is aimed at private landlords who would like to complain about the actions of their local council. This factsheet provides a broad overview of the main types of complaint which we may consider.

I am a private landlord and want to complain about the actions of my local council. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In some cases, yes. There are several ways in which a private landlord may have a working relationship with a council with regard to housing matters. Where things go wrong we may be able to investigate. This factsheet focuses on the main areas of housing complaint which can be made by a private landlord.

We have produced a separate factsheet which focuses on complaints by private landlords about housing benefit matters: Factsheet B2 – Your tenant's claims for housing benefit (complaining as a landlord)

Private housing 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. 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. We would not normally investigate if the council takes enforcement proceedings against you because you can appeal against most legal notices. For example, an Improvement Notice can be appealed against to the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber). Generally, we would expect you to use your appeal rights.

Licensing

Councils have statutory duties to license large Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) and may also decide that a licence is required for smaller HMOs. Councils also have the power to introduce selective licensing schemes to try to address housing problems in their area. This gives the council the power to require all private landlords in a designated area to obtain a licence from the council.

We may consider a complaint from a private landlord about the council’s handling of their HMO or selective licence. However, many licensing decisions such as the refusal to issue a licence or the conditions imposed on a licence carry rights of appeal to the Residential Property Tribunal. We would not normally investigate where the landlord has such a right of appeal, or where a council decides to take a landlord to court for not having a licence or breaching the conditions of a licence.

Using private landlords to help those in housing need

There are various ways in which a landlord may work with a council to help it house those in need of accommodation. They include rent deposit schemes, direct letting, leasing arrangements and empty property grants.

A council may run a rent deposit or bond scheme to help people who can’t afford a tenancy deposit to rent from a private landlord. This normally involves the council providing a loan to the prospective tenant for the tenancy deposit and/or a bond to the landlord to cover any damage to the property.  

Many councils offer a direct letting service to private landlords. This can involve the council introducing a suitable tenant to a landlord and perhaps offering other incentives to the landlord to let the property to the prospective tenant. Alternatively, private landlords may enter into a longer term lease agreement with a council to allow the council to use their property to house people in need of accommodation. The council then manages the property and guarantees the rent for the period of the lease agreement.

The council may also offer a grant or loan to the owner of an empty property to bring the property back into use. This is usually on the condition that the landlord enters into a lease agreement with the council to allow the council to use the property for housing those in need of accommodation.

Complaints about these matters may be made to the Ombudsman. We may decide to investigate if there is evidence of fault by the council which has caused you an injustice. However, where there is a disagreement about whether either you or the council have complied with the terms of a lease agreement, we would not normally investigate. This is because the courts are in the best position to decide such disputes.

Banning orders and rogue landlords database

The Housing and Planning Act 2016 gives councils the power to apply for a banning order to prevent someone who has been convicted of a defined banning offence from being involved in the letting or managing of a property. The Act also imposes a duty on councils to keep a database of rogue landlords in their area. The Ombudsman would not normally investigate complaints about these matters. This is because the First Tier Tribunal decides whether to apply a banning order and also considers appeals against the council placing a landlord on the database of rogue landlords.

How do I complain?

  • You should complain to the council first. Councils often have more than one stage in their complaints procedure and you will usually have to complete all stages before we will look at your complaint.
  • 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 there was fault by the council in the way it dealt with you. For example, if the council:

  • gave you incorrect advice
  • delayed responding to you or taking action
  • did not do something it said it would do, or
  • did not follow the decision of a court or tribunal.

However, we cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because you disagree with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached.

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

If we find the council was at fault we will consider whether you suffered a significant injustice as a result. If so, we will normally recommend that the council takes action to put right the injustice you suffered. This may involve practical steps such as inspecting a property, paying money you are owed or processing a licensing application. 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

The council runs a Direct Lets Scheme where it works with private sector landlords to provide properties for prospective tenants on the housing list in its area. Mr X complained the council gave him misleading information about how this scheme worked. Mr X says the council indicated it would guarantee the rent for his property. But, after Mr X joined the scheme his tenant’s housing benefit was not enough to cover the rent. We found the council did not give Mr X adequate information about the scheme. This was fault. This meant Mr X could not make an informed choice about whether to join the scheme. It also meant Mr X did not do his own checks on the tenant. We found the council had provided a suitable remedy for the injustice Mr X suffered. This is because the council decided not to recover a significant incentive overpayment it made to Mr X. We also asked the council to apologise to Mr X and prepare an information sheet or leaflet which accurately reflected the terms of the scheme that it could provide to prospective landlords.
The council runs a deposit bond guarantee scheme where it introduces tenants to a landlord to rent their property. Under the scheme the council provides a deposit guarantee bond equivalent to one month’s rent which the landlord can claim in the event of damage caused to the property by the tenant. Mrs X accepted a tenant under the scheme. Mrs X complained the council did not pay the full costs of damages caused by her tenant. Mrs X also complained the council took too long to re-house her tenant. We found the sum paid by the council to Mrs X was in line with the terms of the scheme, which was one month’s rent. We also found the scheme did not require the council to re-house Mrs X’s tenant when the tenancy came to an end. So, we found the council was not at fault.

Other sources of information

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