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. 

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

To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 481 1595.

You can complete an online complaint form.

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 being caused
  • 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 some complaints we have considered

A group of neighbours complained that a council failed to take effective enforcement action over complaints they made about two derelict properties close to their homes. They specifically asked the council to purchase both properties so that they could be repaired and the problems dealt with. We found that, while the council had investigated the complaints and written to the owner, its attempts to negotiate with the owner to bring the properties back into use failed. It was reasonable for the council to try and improve the situation through negotiation but, when this didn’t work, further action should have been taken more quickly. When the complaints were originally made, the council did not have a policy on compulsory purchases, but it then introduced one and agreed to purchase one of the properties (legal reasons prevented it from doing so with the second one). We found the council’s actions to be a reasonable way of resolving the problem.
Mr S complained that a council failed to take effective enforcement action, over a number of years, on a deteriorating (listed) building close to his home. The council agreed to consider whether it should compulsorily purchase the property and to keep him informed. Mr S complained that the council did not do so, and did not take action to prevent further deterioration of the property. Following a report that squatters were using the property, the council investigated and proceeded with a Compulsory Purchase Order. It made an offer to purchase the property but this could not be agreed with the owner. Mr S continued to complain, but another group of council officers then concluded that the likely costs of purchasing and restoring the (now damaged) property could not be justified. We found that the council delayed taking action after negotiations with the owner broke down. It also failed to keep Mr S informed of developments. This added to the sense that the council was not progressing the matter with any urgency. We recommended that the council should pay Mr S £500 to acknowledge his time and trouble in pursuing the complaint and as a contribution towards the professional fees he incurred. It should also keep Mr S informed of any further developments.

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.

The Local Government 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 2015 

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