Derelict properties

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at people who cannot get the council to take action about nearby derelict properties and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

There is a dangerous and unsightly derelict building nearby and the council has done nothing about it. Can the Ombudsman help me?

Yes, in some circumstances. If you believe that the council did something wrong in the way it investigated complaints about the nuisance caused by the building and can also show that it caused you problems, then you can complain to us. 

We won’t uphold your complaint if it turns out that the council followed the proper procedures, legislation and guidance but came to a decision you disagree with.

How do I complain?

You should normally 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. 

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?

If the council has done something wrong we look at what effect this had and what problems this led to for you. For example, is the fault likely to have made a difference to whether something could be done about the property? Some faults we might find are that the council:

  • Did not properly investigate the complaint and failed to establish whether any nuisance (eg anti-social behaviour, public health or safety problems) was present
  • Established that there was a nuisance problem or that the property was dangerous, but failed to take action on it
  • Took too long to investigate the problem or failed to take formal action against the property owner when informal attempts to resolve the problem failed
  • Did not consider alternative solutions, such as compulsory purchase, or took too long to consider the alternatives or to follow the relevant policy or guidance
  • Did not explain the outcome of its investigation to you, or
  • Made a decision based on inaccurate, incomplete or irrelevant evidence or failed to consider evidence that was available.

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

It depends on the fault and what the consequences are for you. Examples of when we might make recommendations are:

  • If the council has established that there is an anti-social behaviour problem linked to a derelict property, but has failed to take action, we may recommend that the council re evaluate the evidence and consider what powers it has to take action. 
  • If the property is in a dangerous state of disrepair or raises health concerns, we may suggest that the council investigates or contacts the owner to see if he or she can be encouraged to bring the property back into use. If this is not possible, we may recommend that the council considers whether it could purchase the property, carry out repairs to address any safety issues, or take its own action to bring it back into use. While we cannot insist on this, if we find that you suffered for longer than you should have done, we may ask the council to make you a payment to acknowledge any additional inconvenience caused. 
  • We may also ask for a payment to acknowledge the time, trouble or expense you have been put to in pursuing your complaint. 
  • Where we find fault with the council’s procedures we will often recommend that the council introduces changes so that the same problem does not occur again in the future.
  • We cannot force the council to take action against the property owner and cannot intervene ourselves, even if the nuisance harms your enjoyment of your home or garden or devalues your property.

Examples of complaints we have considered

Mr X complained about the council’s failure to take effective action to deal with nuisance caused by a derelict residential property next to his home. The council agreed the property was in an advanced state of disrepair. It also found waste had been dumped at the property causing smells and a vermin infestation. The council served notices on the owner which prohibited occupation and to clear up the waste and pests. However, the owner did not fully comply and its negotiations with the owner made it aware he was not willing to maintain or sell the property.
We found the council at fault for causing delays in reviewing the options available which meant several months passed with no action plan or progress, and it failed to keep Mr X informed about developments and its plans. We recommended the council should apologise to Mr X and pay him £500 to acknowledge the distress and uncertainty its delays caused. We were satisfied with the subsequent action the council had taken to apply for an order of sale of the property but recommended it should also prepare a contingency plan in case the application for sale failed.

Mrs K complained the council failed to use its statutory powers to bring an unoccupied property next to her home into a reasonable standard of repair and occupation. She said this had led to vermin entering her property and distress due to the council’s delays. The council visited Mrs K and inspected her neighbour’s property. It found, while the property was in some disrepair, there were no statutory nuisance, significant hazards, or vermin. It apologised for some delay which were caused by national lockdowns due to COVID-19. The evidence showed the council considered the powers available to it, which included forcing a sale and applying for a Compulsory Purchase Order or an Empty Dwelling Management Order. It found no action should be taken and informed Mrs K about its decision.
We found no fault by the council. It properly considered Mrs K’s concerns and reached views it was entitled to make. We could therefore not criticise the merits of its decision. We also did not find fault in the delays caused, as these were due to COVID-19 and the council kept Mrs K informed throughout.

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 contact us.

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.

July 2023

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