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. 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 ‘call back’ to 0762 481 1595. You can also contact us by textphone using the Next Generation Text service (formerly Text Relay or Typetalk).
  • You can 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

Mr and Mrs D own several HMOs. The council proposed an accreditation scheme for HMOs that would enable a local agency to confirm to its clients that accommodation was suitable. Mr and Mrs D participated in the scheme but they disagreed with the council about the work required to meet fire safety standards. So they left one of their HMOs at what they considered to be the appropriate standard. The matter went to tribunal and the tribunal shared Mr and Mrs D’s view. The council did not appeal against this decision but it disagreed with it. After the tribunal’s decision, the council failed for six months to clearly set out its position on the alleged defects in Mr and Mrs D’s HMO and the work needed to remedy these defects. So Mr and Mrs D could not arrange the minor remedial work necessary for the property to be accredited. We recommended the council: review the accreditation scheme to remove any ambiguity about the relevant standards and guidance; apologise to Mr and Mrs D; refund the inspection fee for the property, and waive the accreditation fee for the following year; and carry out the minor remedial work necessary for the property to be accredited. We also recommended the council pay Mr and Mrs D £250 to acknowledge the avoidable time and trouble its fault had caused them. We also recommended a further payment of £400 because Mr and Mrs D lost the benefit of the property being accredited under the scheme and let to vetted occupants.
Mr B rented his property to a tenant who the council had accepted onto its rent deposit scheme. Mr B signed a bond agreement with the council at the start of the tenancy. The agreement meant the council would pay Mr B the equivalent of eight weeks rent at the end of the tenancy if the tenant caused any damage to the property. The bond agreement said that no claim against the deposit could be for more than the sum bonded, which was eight weeks rent. When the tenant moved out of the property Mr B put in a claim to the council against the bond. Mr B says the tenant caused a lot of damage to the property. The council paid Mr B £1500 which was the full bonded amount. Mr B complained to the Ombudsman because he considered it would cost far more than £1500 to return the house to a good condition. We found the council was not at fault. The council paid Mr B the maximum amount payable under the bond agreement. The council was not responsible for the conduct of the tenant or any damage in excess of the bonded amount. Also, the council carried out basic checks before accepting the tenant onto the scheme and it was not reasonable to expect the council to know how the tenant would behave many years later.

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 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.

February 2017

 

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