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Leeds City Council (202106891)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 202106891

Leeds City Council

20 June 2022


Our approach

The Housing Ombudsman’s approach to investigating and determining complaints is to decide what is fair in all the circumstances of the case. This is set out in the Housing Act 1996 and the Housing Ombudsman Scheme (the Scheme). The Ombudsman considers the evidence and looks to see if there has been any ‘maladministration’, for example whether the landlord has failed to keep to the law, followed proper procedure, followed good practice or behaved in a reasonable and competent manner.

Both the resident and the landlord have submitted information to the Ombudsman and this has been carefully considered. Their accounts of what has happened are summarised below. This report is not an exhaustive description of all the events that have occurred in relation to this case, but an outline of the key issues as a background to the investigation’s findings.

The complaint

  1. The complaint is about the landlord’s handling of the residents reports of damp and water ingress

Background and summary of events

  1. The resident is a leaseholder living in a third floor flat. The resident says there was a ‘serious structural roof issue’ which has been causing problems with damp, mould and damage to her balcony and interior of her home since 2015. The resident says that there has been no resolution to this issue which has been going on for many years and has caused damp in her living room and kitchen. The resident has also reported damage to her balcony area and says she has had to do regular repainting because of water ingress.
  2. Repair records indicate that a roof leak issue was reported by the resident as early as 2015 but there are no further records of reports until 2020. The resident has said that in the intervening years, the same issues was reported several times at a local housing office and the landlord has said it responded to these concerns as and when they were reported.   
  3. In November 2017, the landlord instructed a specialist company to carry out annual visual inspections of the block where the resident lives. This service has seen two of these reports from December 2019, one specifically about the roof and the other covering the block itself.
  4. In the first report, among the many general faults found were ‘degraded and missing sealant to vertical joints, de-bonded mastic in joints (on the residents 3rd floor), numerous areas of spalling concrete’ as well as many instances of cracked brickwork. In the report about the roof, the waterproofing material was described as being in ‘fair condition’ but evidence was found of ‘repairs beginning to spall and fail’ on the parapet on the roof.   
  5. In September 2020, the resident contacted her local councillor about the water leak issue and expressed her concern that other residents were also being affected and the lack of response by the landlord would lead to increased costs of repair that she may need to contribute towards as a leaseholder. The resident also made enquiries about the schedule for cleaning balconies. The landlord initially said that the balcony cleaning would fall under the resident’s repair responsibility, but then said it would investigate further when the resident explained it was practically impossible for her to do the necessary cleaning for safety reasons.
  6. The resident reported water entering her kitchen and living room on 17 September 2020. The landlord told the resident there were some delays to its repair service due to a backlog of work from the Coronavirus pandemic. On 30 September 2020, the landlord visited to assess the water ingress and balcony damage. The landlord arranged clearance of gulleys from the roof which had plants growing out of them.
  7. In October 2020, a roof drain was checked for damage using CCTV but was no damage was found.
  8. On 16 December 2020, the landlord visited the residents property again. The landlord found crumbling concrete on the balcony which needed attention as well as evidence of water penetration and black spot mould. The landlord returned on 23 December 2020 to see if the cause of the damp and mould could be identified. On this second visit, it was found that the ‘asphalt around the gulley of the roof had deteriorated and gaps had appeared.’ The landlord said that vegetation had taken root between the gaps and this was causing the water ingress problem. The landlord said there were ‘visible signs of wetness’ on the external brickwork which could be coming from the roof.
  9. The resident made a formal complaint of 23 December 2020 saying there was an unresolved leak on the roof that was causing damp and damage to her property. 
  10. The landlord responded to the complaint by phone on 15 January 2021 and said that following this call the resident had agreed that her complaint could be closed. During the call, the landlord gave the resident the findings of the two inspections that had recently occurred, saying that CCTV had found no damage to the drains and gaps in the asphalt on the roof were thought to be the cause of the water ingress. The landlord said “the remedy would be to cut out a section of the asphalt roofing around the roof gulley and towards the edge of the roof to expose the substructure to see if any delamination as taken place between the two products.” The landlord said in its notes to the stage one complaint that an order had been raised for a contractor to do this. The landlord also clarified issues raised relating to the resident’s service charge and provided details of an insurance provider that dealt with claims for damaged possessions.
  11. On the 3 February 2021, the resident approached a local councillor regarding the roof disrepair and water ingress. She said that the problems she was experiencing were ‘not an isolated incident’ and that many other local residents had repeatedly raised concerns and complaints to the landlord about the same issues.
  12. Following further email correspondence with a manager who had been contacted by the local councillor, the landlord said there were ‘no known structural issues’ but agreed to carry out a ‘big picture’ assessment of the local area. This began on 8 February 2021 when the resident was visited again by the landlord. The resident had arranged for seven other flats to be made available for a visit on the same day. This included flats in other blocks on the local estate but the focus of this investigation is on the residents block and her flat in particular.
  13. The problems noted at the resident’s flat were described as “balcony wall damp and render falling off, inside the flat the reverse side of the balcony wall also damp. Requires roofing work, render taking off brick panel removing and clear out cavity possibly wet insulation.”
  14. On the 10 February 2021, the resident told the landlord she was pleased with the progress that was being made dealing with the wider issues and said that communication with the residents had been ‘excellent.’ An assessment was booked for a structural engineer to advise on the leaks to the balcony areas on 15 February 2021.
  15. On the 17 February 2021, the resident expressed concern that the visit by the structural engineer had been cancelled and asked for a more specific timescale for completion of the needed works. The landlord provided an update to the resident on 22 February 2021. The landlord acknowledged that repair work was needed at the residents flat and said that dates for repairs would be provided when possible. The landlord said it was carrying out inspections over the next two weeks of the top floor flats to see if there were any unreported leaks or damp issues and further updates would be provided. On 24 February 2021, the landlord informed the resident that the works would start ‘after Easter’ which fell on 4 April 2021.  
  16. In an internal update of 11 March 2021, the landlord noted that following inspections of flats of upper floor flats in the resident’s block, three other flats had been found with similar water ingress issues in the balcony area and one with evidence of black spot mould in the bedroom. In an update to a local Councillor and including the resident dated 18 March 2021, the landlord said it had “engaged with a commercial roofing contractor to work with us to draw up a scope for repairing or replacing the roof surface and what is the best and most durable option for the roofs.” It also said it was “exploring the use of a mechanical access platform to repair the balconies this would provide a safer way of working at height.”
  17.  On the 31 March 2021, as part of the process for carrying out planned works, a business case was prepared by the manager responsible for carrying out the ‘big picture’ assessment. This stated that the resident’s block required ‘urgent and immediate attention’ and the works were described as ‘essential’. The planned works included several other blocks on the local estate.
  18. On the 22 April 2021, the resident requested escalation of her complaint to stage two. The resident said there had still been no resolution to the problems she had first raised several years earlier.
  19. On 2 May 2021, internal communications note that the landlord would not be in a position to start the works ‘for the next 5 weeks at least’ due to the scale and cost of the work and the need to commission new roof designs. The email trail also refers to ‘confusion’ between different contractors as to what aspects of the work specifications they have been asked to do.
  20. The landlord responded to the resident’s complaint escalation on 14 May 2021. The response apologised and said that the landlord had over the years responded to leak issues as and when reported by the resident. However, it acknowledged that those repairs had not been successful to date in stopping the water ingress. It said that the needed repairs were part of a wider project of planned works that was underway. The response provided contact information for the co-ordinator of the works but did not give a timescale for the start of the works or completion.    
  21. On 1 June 2021, the landlord carried out a dry electronic leak detection survey on the residents block. 49 defects were found that the survey said was generally due to ‘poor application of waterproofing material.’ The survey said that these weak points “will be ingressing water in to the building fabric during the course of heavy rainfall to the flat roof areas.” 
  22. On the 22 June 2021, the resident contacted this service to explain the outstanding issues of her complaint. The resident said that the damp issue had not been addressed and the landlord had been aware of it for many years. The resident later said that the landlord had been ‘unprofessional and evasive’ and she had spent time chasing up her complaint as well as carrying out regular repainting in her property.    
  23. On the 1 July 2021, an initial notification letter was sent to residents about the planned works on the estate.
  24. On the 2 August 2021, the landlord informed local councillors that planned works were due to commence on 23 August 2021 and estimated to take 20 weeks weather permitting. The resident’s block was second in order of priority for the works.
  25. The latest information received from the landlord says that work was due to start on the resident’s block in early January 2022 and the duration was estimated to be 14-16 weeks.
  26. The resident has recently said that although works to the roof of the block have been completed, no work has taken place to repair her crumbling balcony, redecorate, repaint or treat the mould in her flat. Since the leaks have usually been worse in winter months, the resident is not yet sure if the roof work has been successful in stopping the water ingress.

Assessment and findings

  1. The focus of this investigation has been on the landlord’s response to the residents reports of water ingress since September 2020. It is not within the scope of this report to make findings on the landlord’s actions in response to other residents or other blocks on the local estate.
  2. The landlord’s repair obligations are set out in the lease which the landlord has not provided to this service. The landlord has referred this service to its “Leaseholder Guide” document for details of its repair obligations to leaseholders.
  3. This document says it that it is the landlord “who is responsible for the repairs and improvements to the building structure eg (roof replacement)” The document also says that the landlord responsibilities include “repairs to the external building structure.” The list of the landlord’s repair responsibilities also includes:
    1. Roofs, drains, gutters and pipes on the outside of your home
    2. Window frames and cills (excluding glass)
    3. External and internal structural walls (but not the plaster)
    4. An obligation to consult about planned works if the leaseholder’s contribution is over £250
  4. The landlord’s repair policy states that “You are responsible for the decoration within your home. If, as a result of a repair issue such as a leak, your decoration is damaged, the council will not be responsible for it. If our contractor carries out the work to your home that damages your decoration then you may be entitled to an allowance to put this right. You will be told about this before the work takes place.”
  5. The repairs policy indicates that the landlord’s target response time for general repairs is 20 working days, with emergency repairs within 24 hours and other priority repairs done in 3-7 working days. 
  6.  The landlord response to the residents report of water ingress raised on 17 September 2020 was reasonable since it attended within an acceptable timeframe to inspect the resident’s property and took measures to try and identify the source of the leak. The inspection took place on 30 September 2020 within the landlord’s target timeframe set out in its repairs policy of 20 working days.
  7. Further attempts to identify the source of the leak took place in the following months with a CCTV inspection of a drain as well as clearance of vegetation in the roof gulleys. The landlord showed a willingness to investigate although progress was slow and no resolution to the overall problem was achieved by the time the resident made her complaint in December 2020.
  8. Although it was good practice for the landlord to contact the resident and discuss her complaint as it did in January, the complaint should not have been closed without a written response or resolution to the problem. The landlord said it would be better able to identify source of the problem by cutting out “a section of the asphalt roofing around the roof gulley and towards the edge of the roof to expose the substructure” but there is no evidence that this happened.
  9. Similarly, it was noted in December that there was ‘crumbling concrete on the structure of the balcony’ but there is no evidence that this was repaired. There is however, evidence that the landlord’s usual contractors did not carry out this type of work and the work was either delayed or never happened as a result.
  10. In the months from February until escalation of the complaint in 22 April 2021, again the landlord showed a willingness to investigate and take a ‘big picture’ approach as the resident had herself suggested. The decision to undertake roof works to the residents block as part of planned works rather than as a routine repair was therefore reasonable.
  11. However, the needed repairs to the residents crumbling concrete on the balcony and damp walls were not carried out by the landlord. These repairs were side-lined once the large scale planned works for the local estate got underway. In the stage two response of 14 May 2021, the landlord confirmed that its “intention is that this (planned work) will include works to replace the full roof coverings, rectify defects with the balconies and repair work to the exterior of the blocks.”   
  12. It was therefore reasonable for the resident to expect the landlord to repair the crumbling concrete structure of her balcony as part of the planned works. Since the landlord has accepted responsibility for carrying out those repairs and has failed to carry them out, there is clear evidence of both service failure and delay. As part of putting things right’, under our dispute resolution principles, the landlord should therefore provide compensation to the resident.
  13. In terms of delay dealing with roof repair, the time taken to carry out the roof repair in total is 18 months. That is from September 2020 when there is evidence that the resident reported water ingress until at least March 2022 (a minimum of 14 weeks after January 2022) which was the timeframe given by the landlord as when the roof work would be completed in the resident’s block.
  14. While it is recognised that during this time the landlord planned, costed and undertook a large scale project which covered several other blocks in the local area, a rate of £25 per month for this delay would be reasonable compensation. This is a total of £450 for the roof delay.
  15. Further compensation of £250 should be provided for the failure to repair the crumbling concrete on the balcony structure. Given the distress and inconvenience to the resident, which includes damp in her property causing black spot mould, it is ordered that the landlord makes an offer of repainting and redecoration as part of putting things right.
  16. As part of the learning from this complaint, it has also been recommended that the landlord review its stock management practices. Although the landlord had arrangements in place to have annual visual inspection surveys in place since 2017 in this area, these surveys evidently did not provide the landlord with the intelligence about the condition of its stock needed to identify that there was a widespread problem which affected many residents in the area. It is a cause of concern that in this case, the landlord only became aware of the need for urgent action after the issues were raised repeatedly by the resident.       

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman scheme, there was maladministration in the landlord’s handling of the resident’s reports of water ingress causing damp and mould in her home.

Reasons

  1. The landlord carried out needed repairs to the roof in an unreasonably extended timeframe of 18 months from when the resident made her initial report. The landlord has failed to carry out needed repairs to the resident’s balcony which it said it intended to carry out in its stage two complaint response. The landlord has not provided any financial redress to the resident.  

 

Orders

  1. It is ordered that the landlord offer the resident a total of £700 compensation which is £450 for the failures identified in the roof repair and £250 for the failure to repair the balcony within four weeks.
  2. It is ordered that the landlord repair the residents balcony and offer to repaint and redecorate interior parts of the resident’s home affected by the roof defects within eight weeks.

Recommendations

  1. It is recommended that the landlord reviews its procedures to ensure future planned works are driven by intelligence about the quality of its housing stock.

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