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Notting Hill Home Ownership Limited (201907483)

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REPORT

COMPLAINT 201907483

Notting Hill Home Ownership Limited

30 September 2021


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 concerns the landlord’s response to:
    1. The residents’ request for an independent surveyor assessment.
    2. The residents’ reports of defects to the communal areas.
    3. The residents’ complaint about its poor communication and management of the property.
    4. The residents’ concerns raised about the NHBC warranty.

Background and summary of events

Background

  1. The residents are a group of leaseholders who own flats in a three-story property building to which the landlord is the freeholder and developer of the estate.
  2. In 2017, the residents reported communal defects to the landlord and in 2018 they raised a formal complaint to the landlord regarding communal defects and repairs. The Ombudsman is aware that the landlord provided its final response to this complaint on 30 August 2019. It is noted that the residents have referenced some events and commitments made by the landlord during this complaints process. However, as the residents did not bring a formal complaint to the Ombudsman about the matters that exhausted the landlord’s complaints process on 30 August 2019 within a reasonable timeframe, this report will not investigate this complaint. Any reference in the report to events that were considered in this complaint process, is for background and context to the complaint.

 

Summary of Events

  1. The residents emailed the landlord on 30 January 2020 referencing a previous email from the landlord on 27 November 2019 in which the residents said it had promised an action plan to resolve the outstanding communal issues and defects to the property building. The residents attached a copy of landlord’s email of 27 November 2019 which acknowledged residents had raised concerns about “ongoing issues” not being fully resolved. Within this email the landlord said it had created an action plan, the first stage of which was to meet with contractors on site to assess the outstanding works so arrangements could be made to carry out repairs.
  2. The residents requested that the agreed outstanding defects – the timber decking on communal terrace and the drainage issues underneath the communal terrace, were swiftly resolved.   The residents also asked if the independent surveyor the landlord previously agreed to appoint, could assess if the following issues constituted defects:
    1. Quality of repair cracks to ceilings in communal corridors.
    2. Drainage of communal corridors.
    3. Operational issue with lighting in communal corridors.
  3. On 14 August 2020, the residents emailed the landlord saying they understood the pandemic had affected its ability to deliver repair work since March that year however said that the outstanding repairs required in the communal areas long pre-dated Covid and they were unhappy that there was still no action plan in place. They complained that they had not received a response to their previous email dated 30 January 2020. They requested a response from the landlord.
  4. On 5 October 2020, the residents formally complained to the landlord referencing actions it had promised in 2019 to address communal defects that they said there had been no effective resolution of. The residents said the landlord had also failed to a respond to their concerns raised since November 2019. The residents provided 125 photos showing communal areas dated July 2020 via a weblink contained in their email.
  5. On 7 October 2020, the landlord acknowledged the residents’ email and advised it was working on the outstanding works. It provided the following updates:
    1. The communal terrace. A review on the drainage underneath the decking was carried out earlier that year by a drainage contractor. Their report said due to the way supports had been laid, water was getting trapped, overflowing and running down the wall. It recommended for the decking to be lifted and pipes repaired. It said that a second drainage contractor had since reviewed the leaks and advised that a roofing specialist was required to rectify the leaks underneath the decking. It said that a roofing specialist was due to attend early next week.
    2. Wall/ceiling cracks in communal areas. The cracks surrounding the building including the communal corridor would be surveyed by a building contractor. The rectification of these cracks would follow as well as redecoration works. It would also look into the missing screws on the drainage panels along the walkways.
    3. Lighting in the communal corridors. It acknowledged the bulbs have had to be changed on multiples occasions over the past few months due to an issue with the light fixtures. It said it was aware this would increase the service charge and so it would be looking into a long-term fix. The landlord confirmed it would send out the Section 20 notices regarding lights for the estate by 19 October 2020 for residents’ input/review as it had received an estate wide quote for an LED changeover.
  6. On 21 October 2020, the landlord’s Property Manager Officer (PMO) sent a stage one response. In regards to the outstanding issues, it advised:
    1. Communal terrace. A roofing specialist was required to rectify the leak under the decking. It also said it would arrange for an internal surveyor to arbitrate where there is disagreement about whether an issue constitutes a defect or not. The role of the surveyor in the first instance should be to look at each issue in dispute and determine, by reference to the NHBC standards, if it was a defect or not.
    2. Wall/ceilings cracks in communal areas. The imperfections in the wall had been recorded and would be corrected and redecorated when the leaks were completely rectified. It said its surveyor would assess this issue also.
    3. Lighting in the communal corridors. It reiterated there was an issue with lights across the whole estate. It had been exploring a more long-term benefit for the lights and believed an LED changeover was best for energy efficiency and fixture life span. It was currently working on sending out the section 20 notices this month. It said it would also get its lighting contractor to look at what could be done about the darkness in the interim and quickly send out notices for residents’ input.
  7. The landlord confirmed it had organised for its internal surveyors to attend the property building on 26 October 2020 at 11:30am. It said section 20 notices would be dispatched shortly in regards to the LED changeover. The landlord said if the residents were unhappy with this response, they could request that its response is escalated to stage two.
  8. On 24 October 2020, the residents requested escalation of their complaint to stage two. The residents stated the reasons as:
    1. The landlord had previously agreed in 2019 to appoint an independent surveyor to review the multiple issues raised. They would not accept a judgement by the landlord’s internal surveyors and would not attend the suggested site visit dated 26 October 2020.
    2. Its response had only referred to three defects whereas the action plan should include all the defects raised in 2019 which were:
      1. Communal corridor ceiling.
      2. Drainage in communal corridors.
      3. Communal corridor surface.
      4. Lights in communal corridors.
      5. Crack on roof edge on communal terrace.
      6. Timber decking communal terrace.
      7. Leak from communal terrace across three floors.
  9. The residents also said they were dissatisfied with the service provided by the landlord due to:
    1. Poor communication, for example unanswered emails dated 30 January and 14 August 2020.
    2. Lack of “acceptable management” of the property building, for example the long delay to resolve the leaks under the communal terrace, initially reported more than 12 months ago.
    3. Recurrent poor quality workmanship by contractors managed and signed off by the landlord.
    4. Its previous advice from 2019 that due to a conflict of interest (the landlord as developer, builder, freeholder and management company) the NHBC resolution process was not on offer to them. They asked for clarity regarding the validity of NHBC insurance and the process of future claims as the landlord has not answered this to date.
  10. The residents requested compensation based on the “unnecessary costs of energy consumption related to defective lighting”, the impact on their quality of life” due to living with defects, poor management and communication.
  11. On 1 December 2020, the landlord’s Leasehold Manager provided a stage two response. The landlord referred to a telephone call with the lead resident on 23 November 2020 when it said he outlined all the points in the residents’ complaint. It said firstly it was sorry for the delay with its stage two complaint response. It acknowledged that there were numerous elements to their complaint and said it would focus on each point in turn:
    1. Request for the appointment of an independent surveyor. It acknowledged it had previously committed to appointing an independent surveyor, with no affiliation to either it or the residents, to assess the defects at the property building. The landlord confirmed that it was happy to honour this commitment and to cover the surveyor’s fee. It said it had contacted an independent surveying company to see if they would be suitable to carry out this assessment. It would ensure residents are present to attend an inspection of the defects if this company was available.
    2. In relation to defects, it provided the below action plan:
      1. Pocket park- its PMO was reviewing the contract with the service provider as it acknowledged that residents were unhappy with the service.
      2. Communal corridor ceiling these cracks had been filled in, but it acknowledged residents were unhappy with the quality of the works. This would be assessed by the independent surveyor.
      3. Drainage in communal corridors this item would be assessed by the independent surveyor.
      4. Communal corridor surface this item would be assessed by the independent surveyor.
      5. Lighting in communal corridors– it had sent residents the Notice of Intention as per the first stage of the Section 20 process. This advised that it intended to upgrade the lighting across the estate to LED lights. There was a 30-day consultation period for all residents to provide their observations on this before the second notice was served. The second notice; Notice of Estimates, would detail at least two comparative quotes for the works and would give another 30-day period to feedback. The landlord said that in relation to the residents’ request for it to cover the cost of changing the lights to LEDs, it would not be willing to pay for this as this was an upgrade to the building and therefore the cost would be covered through the service charge.
      6. Cycle storage- whilst the residents believed there were still outstanding works, its PMO had advised a contractor attended in October 2020 to reinforce and secure the bike store gate with steel mesh with security bolts. Therefore, it had asked the PMO to contact the residents for clarification on this item and to agree an action plan moving forward if required.
      7. Crack on roof edge on communal terrace– this item would be assessed by the independent surveyor.
      8. Timber decking communal terrace – it understood residents were not happy with the finish of the decking and wanted this replaced as children of the property building had not been able to use this space due to poor maintenance. It advised it had been working hard to fix the drainage under the timber decking and once this had been fixed, its PMO could then review options for replacement and would share these with the residents.
      9. Internet installation – It acknowledged residents stated this item had not been rectified and wanted it assessed by the independent surveyor. It acknowledged that internet could not be installed for many residents due to limited hatches across the communal ceilings. It said it previously arranged for additional hatches to be installed across the communal ceilings and this work had been completed in July 2020. It had asked its PMO to contact the resident for clarification and said this issue could be assessed by the independent surveyor if this was desired.
      10. Leak from communal terrace across three floors– this would be assessed by the independent surveyor.
    3. In regards to communication, it apologised for the lack of any response provided to the residents’ emails of 30 January 2020 and 14 August 2020. Its PMO had explained she felt overwhelmed with the number of issues and wanted to meet on site to discuss things in person and do “a walk around”. She had offered in an email sent to residents on 11 February 2020 to meet with them on site to discuss the complaint however a formal response should have been sent to the residents. Further it said it was “deeply apologetic” that the residents had not received a response after escalating the matter in August 2020. This was a service failure on its part and in recognition of this poor service, it offered £250 in compensation for the inconvenience caused (to be paid into the residents’ joint account). It advised it had made its PMO aware of the importance of responding to emails within five days. The landlord provided details of the PMO’s manager and said the residents could escalate to them it if this happened again.
    4. In regards to poor management of the property building, it accepted there had been a delay between March 2020 and July 2020 with fixing poor drainage under the decking which were causing leaks across three floors. This was largely because the PMO had flown out to Australia and was unable to return to the UK because of the travel restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to her departure, the PMO had organised for a drainage company to rectify this issue. However, due to the pandemic, this was not then picked up until the PMO returned. It advised that work to fix the drainage issue had now been quoted and it would also be getting a quote to replace the decking.  In recognition of the delays experienced it said it would commit to pay a contribution towards the replacement of the decking if it was deemed necessary by independent surveyors assessing the property building.
    5. In regards to poor workmanship of repairs, the landlord said it could assure the residents that its aim was always to produce good quality repairs at a reasonable price. Concerns over the quality of repairs undertaken should be raised with his PMO in the first instance so they could ensure contractors re-attend to fix issues free of charge. Regarding the residents’ dissatisfaction with the filling in of cracks to walls/ceilings and finish of decking, these items would be assessed by the independent surveyor.
    6. In relation to clarification sought on how the guarantee through the NHBC worked as it was both the named developer and the policy holder for the site, it advised:
      1. In terms of making claims through the NHBC for any issues inside the flats residents were still able to utilise this service if they deem it necessary. For private sale owners there should be no difficulties whatsoever as the private sale owner should be the policy holder. This was slightly different in the case of shared owners, however if a shared owner contacted the NHBC, the NHBC would then contact it to confirm that it was happy for NHBC to correspond with the shared owner. This had happened numerous times and it always gave consent for the NHBC to speak directly to the shared owner.
      2. In terms of approaching the NHBC in relation to the communal areas, residents were able to make a claim however the claims process would require its involvement as it had management responsibility for the communal areas. For example, a cash settlement for a communal issue would be paid to it to resolve the issue and could not be paid to an individual property owner. It appreciated that due to this set up, residents felt unfairly disadvantaged due to a conflict of interest, but it said it could assure them that its status as policy holder would not affect the NHBC’s interpretation of the claim validity. It was its interest to see that any defect was satisfactory resolved. It reiterated it was honouring its commitment to get an independent surveyor to inspect the communal areas and provide a full report on the outstanding issues.
  12. It said that in summary, it offered £250 in compensation for the poor communication and it would appoint an independent surveyor which it would cover the cost of. It had also provided an action plan and agreed that if the results of the surveyor’s visit was that the previous repair works to the cracks were unsatisfactory then it would repair it again at no extra cost to residents. Further, it had committed to a financial contribution if the surveyor found that the decking needed replacement.
  13. On 16 December 2020, the residents emailed the landlord stating the independent surveying company suggested by the landlord seemed inappropriate given that this company had previously been involved with a review of the property building in 2017. The residents advised they had escalated their complaint to the Ombudsman and said they wanted us to co-ordinate the process of appointing an independent surveyor. The residents reiterated this to the Ombudsman on 1 February 2021. The Ombudsman’s role is to consider if the landlord acted appropriately and reasonably in relation to a particular complaint and therefore the residents’ request for us to co-ordinate the process of appointing an independent surveyor is not an outcome the Ombudsman would consider in this case.
  14. On 18 December 2020, the landlord replied to the residents’ 16 December email advising that being independent of it meant that the individual did not work for it and were not under its direct instruction. It said all RICS qualified surveyors were bound by their code of practice and ethics and therefore no conflict of interest was present. It said it would therefore continue with the appointment of the independent surveyor.
  15. Evidence of communications provided to this service between the landlord and independent surveyor dated 6 January 2021 shows that the landlord engaged an independent surveyor from the proposed company to assess the following five defects in the communal area: ceiling cracks; drainage in the communal areas; condition of communal corridors surface finish; roof edge on communal terrace and; the internet installation.  This evidence shows that in regards to internet installation, the independent surveyor said whilst they could comment on the general routing and any builders work in connection of the installation of this, they were not qualified to provide guidance on data systems.
  16. The independent surveyor attended the property building on 15 January 2021 to assess defects in the communal areas.
  17. In their 1 February 2021 communication to the Ombudsman, the residents expressed dissatisfaction about the repair work and the defects still being outstanding. They also said they were unhappy about:
    1. The landlord’s refusal to pay for the LED upgrade. The lights in the communal corridors had not worked effectively since they moved in in 2015 and they had incurred “unnecessary costs of energy consumption related to defective lighting”, for example lights switched on in bright sunlight and ineffective sensors in the dark. They believe the landlord should cover the cost of the LED changeover.
    2. Internet installation- whilst hatches on all floors were installed, they were unhappy about the workmanship due to for example variable locations and often not in parallel or at the same distance from the existing external walls.
    3. Cycle storage-there had been damage to the north side of the roof since 2017 which had not been repaired. They had not been contacted by the PMO as agreed in its final response.
  18. The landlord’s communications show that the LED changeover was completed in or around May/June 2021 following completion of the Section 20 consultation process and residents’ acceptance of the works.
  19. On 3 June 2021, in its communication to the Ombudsman, the landlord advised the drainage maintenance was completed in March 2021 by the second drainage contactor which resolved the leaks. The landlord provided the associated report to this service which indicated the leaks were addressed. The landlord said it was currently monitoring the area. It said there was no requirement made for it to replace the decking from the contractor but said decking would be assessed by the independent surveyor and recommendations would be followed. It explained that there had been a delay in obtaining the independent surveyor’s report as they had required further technical information from it. It said it was in the processing of arranging for this information to be sent. It also advised:
    1. A new garden proposal from the contractor was sent to residents on 3 February 2021 however as residents rejected the proposal, it ended this service contract and appointed a new contractor for garden maintenance effective from 1 May 2021.
    2. Damage to the cycle storage gate was fixed in October 2020.
  20. On 22 September 2021, the Ombudsman asked the landlord if it had received the surveying report. In response the landlord confirmed it had received the report and supplied a copy of the surveying report dated 2 June 2021 to this service. It also sent a copy of the report to residents on the same date and advised that it was in discussions with its internal surveyors/defects team regarding the recommendations made in the report.

Assessment and findings

Request for an independent surveyor assessment.

  1. In response to the complaint regarding outstanding communal defects in the property building, the landlord advised in its stage one response that it had appointed an internal building surveyor to assess whether an issue constituted, by reference to the NHBC standards, a defect or not. It also advised of when the surveyor would attend the property building to assess the issues so that residents could attend if they wanted to.   In their stage two escalation request, the residents referenced that the landlord had made a prior commitment in 2019 to appoint an independent surveyor to assess whether the issues in the communal areas constituted defects and therefore they were unhappy with its proposal for an internal building surveyor to carry out this assessment. In its stage two response the landlord acknowledged that it had previously agreed to appoint an independent surveyor in to carry out this assessment. It advised the residents that it would therefore honour its prior commitment and provided the name of an independent surveying company that it said it would appoint, if available. Furthermore, it said it would cover the cost of the independent surveyor and would inform residents of the inspection date once availability had been confirmed. As the landlord had previously agreed to appoint an independent surveyor to assess alleged defects within the communal areas, it was appropriate for the landlord to honour its commitment.
  2. The landlord appointed independent surveyors in January 2021 to assess defects in the communal area. The independent surveyors carried out an inspection of the property building on 15 January 2021 which the landlord informed the residents of on 14 January 2021. Therefore, the landlord acted in accordance with what it agreed it would do in its stage two complaint response in respect to appointing independent surveyors. The landlord has also confirmed to the Ombudsman that it had paid for the independent surveyor’s assessment in accordance with its agreement, which was appropriate. It is noted that the landlord told the Ombudsman on 3 June 2021 that there had been a delay in obtaining the report from the independent surveyor because they had required further technical information from it. At that time, it said it was in the processing of arranging for this information to be sent to them. On 22 September 2021, the Ombudsman asked the landlord if it had received the surveying report. In response it provided a copy of the independent surveyor’s report dated 2 June 2021 to this service. The landlord also sent a copy of the report to residents and advised it was in discussions with its internal surveyors/defects team on some of the items raised and recommendations made in the report. 
  3. Therefore, the landlord has demonstrated that it proceeded to appoint an independent surveyor to assess the disputed defects as previously agreed. It also agreed during the complaints process to follow recommendations made by the independent surveyor. This action was appropriate. Nonetheless, it is clear that there was a delay of more than 12 months from when the landlord originally agreed to appoint an independent surveyor in 2019 until when this appointment was confirmed in January 2021. This was despite the residents chasing the landlord about this in January and August 2020. This has caused a delay with progressing a resolution to the issues and defects. The landlord did not acknowledge this failure in its complaints process or offer compensation to the residents in recognition of this. Therefore, the redress offered by the landlord did not sufficiently resolve this complaint.  In the circumstances, it is reasonable for the landlord to pay the residents £1000 in compensation for the inconvenience caused. This figure reflects the number of residents affected by the service failings and the length of time taken by the landlord to meaningfully engage with this complaint which has led to considerable delay in resolving the issues.
  4. Further, as the landlord agreed in its complaints process to follow recommendations made by the independent surveyor, it is appropriate for the landlord to follow through with this commitment. On this basis, an order has been included below.   

The landlord’s response to reports of defects in the communal areas

  1. Clause 5.3 of the lease states that the landlord is responsible for repairing, redecorating, renewing the structure and all the common parts of the building and estate, including lighting.
  2. In November 2019, the landlord agreed to provide an “action plan” in relation to “ongoing issues” raised by residents that it acknowledged were not fully resolved. It said the first stage of this was to meet with contractors on site in order to assess the outstanding works so arrangements could be made to carry out repairs. The residents contacted the landlord on 30 January 2020 chasing it for an update on this and again on 14 August 2020 when they asked when it would address the outstanding communal defects. Following the resident’s formal complaint on 5 October 2020, the landlord responded on 7 October 2020 with an action plan. However, the action plan only included three issues: leaks under the communal terrace, wall/ceiling cracks in the communal area and lighting in the communal corridor. After the residents complained in their stage two escalation request that its action plan had failed to include all the defects, the landlord acknowledged the defects that it had missed and provided a further action plan at stage two which addressed the outstanding items raised by the residents.
  3. The landlord’s action plan included the following issues:
    1. Leaks under communal terrace- the landlord confirmed that a second drainage company had attended to review the leaks in August 2020 after the original company was unable to complete works previously scheduled to start in March 2020 due to issues with staff retention. It said the latest drainage company had recommended for a roofing specialist to rectify the leaks under the decking. It also agreed that the leaks would be assessed by the independent surveyor. As this showed a commitment to repairing the leaks, the proposed actions were reasonable. In its 3 June 2021 communication, the landlord said the leaks under the communal terrace had been repaired in March 2021 by the second drainage company although it said was monitoring the area for further leaks. A report from its drainage company seen by this service supports that repairs were made to address these leaks. However, it is unclear from the independent surveyor’s scope letter dated 6 January 2021 or their report dated 2 June 2021 if this issue was assessed by the independent surveyor. As the landlord agreed for the issue to be assessed, it is appropriate to include an order for the landlord to ensure the drainage issue that caused the leaks is assessed by the independent surveyor, if it has not already been.
    2. Timber decking on the communal terrace -the landlord’s stage two action plan confirmed that once the leaks underneath the decking were fixed, it would then review if the timber decking needed replacing and pay for this if it was deemed required. This was reasonable.  The independent surveyor’s report shows that the condition of the finish in communal areas including the timber decking on the roof terrace was assessed.  As recommendations were raised by the independent surveyor in relation to this item, the landlord should follow these recommendations as agreed.
    3. Drainage in the communal corridors- the landlord’s stage two action plan agreed this item to be assessed by the independent surveyor which was reasonable. The independent surveyor’s report shows this item was assessed and recommendations were made in relation to this issue. As such the landlord should follow these recommendations as agreed.
    4. Cracks to wall/ceiling cracks in the communal areas- in its stage two response the landlord said these cracks including in the communal corridor had been filled in but as the residents were unhappy with the result, this would be assessed by the independent surveyor and repaired at no extra cost to the residents, if deemed necessary. This issue was inspected by the independent surveyor on 15 January 2021 who made recommendations in their report of 2 June 2021. The landlord should therefore follow recommendations in the report.
    5. Crack on roof edge to the communal area-in the landlord’s stage two action plan it agreed for the independent surveyor to assess this issue. This was inspected by the independent surveyor on 15 January 2021 who made a recommendation in their report of 2 June 2021 on this issue. The landlord should therefore follow the recommendation in the report.
    6. Lighting in the communal corridor- the landlord proposed a change to LED to resolve the complaint about defective lighting. In its stage two action plan, the landlord confirmed it had sent residents the Notice of Intention regarding the LED changeover which was the first stage of the section 20 process. The landlord said once it had received feedback from residents, it would send the second notice as per the Section 20 process. It also explained it would not be able to cover the cost of changing the lights to LEDs as this was an upgrade to the building and therefore the cost would be covered through the service charge. The landlord has provided evidence to this service to demonstrate that the LED changeover was completed in or around May 2021 following completion of the Section 20 consultation process and residents’ acceptance of the works. The LED changeover adequately addressed this issue and as the landlord is entitled to charge for upgrades to communal areas including lighting via residents’ service charges, its explanation given was reasonable. However, as there is no evidence of the landlord addressing the residents’  concern raised during the complaints process about the issues with the lighting having caused excess energy costs, an order has been included below for the landlord to respond to this aspect and consider if compensation is appropriate.
  4. It is noted that in its stage two response the landlord also addressed the following issues which had been raised by the resident in his escalation request:
    1. Pocket park- the landlord acknowledged the resident was unhappy about the service provided by the contractor and said it would review the contract. The landlord has demonstrated that a new garden proposal from the contractor was sent to residents on 3 February 2021 however due to residents rejecting the proposal, it subsequently ended this service contract. The landlord advised the Ombudsman on 3 June 2021 that garden maintenance had been assigned to a new contractor effective from 1 May 2021. Therefore, as the landlord agreed to review the garden maintenance contract in response to the concerns raised about the quality of the service, which led to it contracting an alternative garden contractor, it reasonably addressed this concern raised in the complaint’s process. 
    2. Cycle storage- it said the PMO had advised that work to reinforce and secure bike store gate with steel mesh with security bolts had been completed in October 2020. It said its PMO would contact the residents to seek clarification on this issue. This was a reasonable response. The landlord has provided evidence of work carried out to the gate in October 2020 however based on the residents’ communication to the Ombudsman dated 1 February 2021, their concerns relate to alleged damage to the north side of the cycle storage roof.   As there is no evidence of the landlord subsequently contacting the residents to seek clarification as agreed in the complaint’s process, an order has been included below.
    3. Internet installation- the landlord said work to install additional hatches across the communal ceilings had been completed in July 2020 to enable all residents to have internet cabling installed. It said however if the residents remained unhappy with the solution provided this issue could also be assess by the independent surveyor. This was a reasonable resolution to this concern. This item was included in the independent surveyor’s scope letter of 6 January 2021 to the extent they could comment on the general routing and any builders work in connection of the installation. However, it is noted that findings on this item are not included in the report of 2 June 2021. Therefore, an order has been included below for the landlord to follow up on this issue.
  5. Therefore, the landlord’s action plan provided across stage one and two of its complaints process was appropriate as it responded to all of the outstanding issues that had been raised by residents, setting out how it intended to resolve the matter as well as any steps it had already taken to address the issue. This was appropriate. Nonetheless, it is noted that there was a significant delay by the landlord in providing the residents with the action plan and that this caused a delay with progressing a resolution to the issues and defects. However, due to the overlap between this complaint and the complaint about the appointment of an independent surveyor, compensation for this delay has already been ordered by the Ombudsman and so will not be addressed further. 

The landlord’s response to the complaint about poor communication and management of the property

  1. In both their email to the landlord of 14 August 2020 and in their formal complaint, the residents complained about poor communication by the landlord, referring to the lack of any response received to their earlier email sent in January 2020. They also complained about the delay with delivering repair work. The landlord failed to acknowledge or directly respond to these points in either its 7 October 2020 email or stage one response. The failure to address the residents’ concerns in this regard constitutes a service shortcoming by the landlord.
  2. In their stage two escalation request the residents reiterated their complaint about poor communication and said that there had been a lack of “acceptable management” of the property building, citing the long delay to resolve the leaks under the communal terrace, which they said was initially reported more than 12 months ago. The residents also referred to previous “poor repair work”.
  3. In its stage two response, the landlord acknowledged and apologised for its failure to respond to the residents’ email of 14 August 2020 which it said was a service failure. It also apologised for the lack of response provided to the residents’ email sent earlier that year and explained its PMO had tried to arrange to meet residents on site to discuss the issues. It said however that a response should have been sent and in recognition of the poor service provided, it offered the residents £250 in compensation. It also confirmed the name of the PMO’s new manager to report any further problem with receiving responses to.
  4. In regards to poor management, it explained why there had been gap in the progression of addressing poor drainage under the decking of the communal terrace between March and July 2020; its PMO had been unable to return to the UK due to travel restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. It said in recognition of the delays experienced,  it would commit to pay a contribution towards the replacement of the decking if it was deemed necessary by the independent surveyor assessing the property building. The landlord also responded to the residents’ complaint about the quality of repair works by advising of the general process it said residents should follow and by confirming that specific examples of the poor workmanship raised by the residents would be assessed by the independent surveyor.
  5. As the landlord, in its stage two complaint response acknowledged a service failure, apologised and offered compensation in recognition of this and explained its position in regards to the complaint about poor management and workmanship, this adequately addressed the residents’ concerns raised and was reasonable.

The landlord’s response to concerns raised about the NHBC warranty

  1. In its stage two response the landlord provided clarification on the NHBC claims process for shared ownership leaseholders. The residents had sought clarity on how the guarantee through the NHBC worked due to a perceived conflict of interest due to the landlord being: “developer, builder, freeholder and management company. In its response the landlord clearly set out the claims process in relation to any issues within the flats both from the perspective of a private owner and a shared owner. It also explained the situation with approaching the NHBC about issues in the communal areas. The landlord’s explanations given in its response was reasonable.

Determination (decision)

  1. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was maladministration by the landlord regarding its response to the residents’ request for an independent surveyor assessment.
  2. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was service failure by the landlord regarding its response to reports of defects in the communal areas.
  3. In accordance with paragraph 55(b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was reasonable redress by the landlord regarding its response to the complaint about poor communication and management of the property.
  4. In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration by the landlord regarding the residents’ concerns raised about the NHBC warranty.

Reasons

  1. The landlord initially proposed at stage one to appoint internal surveyors to carry out an assessment of the disputed communal defects. Once the residents highlighted that the landlord had previously agreed to appoint an independent surveyor to assess the defects, the landlord agreed to honour its prior commitment and also to follow the recommendations of the independent surveyor.  This action was appropriate however as the landlord did not acknowledge the impact caused by its delay in appointing the independent surveyor or offer the residents compensation, it did not adequately resolve this complaint during its complaints process.
  2. The landlord, during its complaints process, addressed all the communal defects raised by the residents, setting out an action plan or what it intended to do to address the issues raised. The proposed actions included the appointment of an independent surveyor to assess the defects and follow any recommendation made. This action was appropriate, however, as the landlord did not acknowledge the impact caused by the delay proving and action plan to identify and carry out any necessary repairs, it did not adequately resolve this complaint during its complaints process.
  3. The landlord, during its complaints process, acknowledged that its poor communication was a failure in service, apologised and offered compensation of £250 to residents in recognition of this. It also responded to the residents’ complaints raised about poor management of the property and the quality of repair works. It explained the delay with progressing agreed works and confirmed that specific examples of the poor workmanship raised by the residents would be assessed by the independent surveyor.
  4. The landlord sufficiently addressed the residents’ request for clarification to be provided surrounding how the NHBC guarantee process worked.

Orders and recommendations

Orders

  1. The Ombudsman orders the landlord to:
    1. Pay the residents (via their resident association bank account) £1000 in compensation for the delay in appointing the independent surveyor/providing an action plan and the subsequent impact and delay in identifying and carrying out any necessary repairs.
    2. Pay the residents the compensation of £250 offered in its complaints process for poor communication, if it has not already done so.
    3. Address the residents’ concern raised about the defective communal lighting having resulted in excessive energy costs and consider if compensation is appropriate.
    4. Seek clarification from the residents regarding an outstanding repair to the cycle storage facility.
    5. Comply with the above orders within four weeks.
    6. Follow the recommendations in the independent surveyor’s report dated 2 June 2021 including in relation to:
      1. The wall/ceiling cracks in the communal areas.
      2. The crack on roof edge.
      3. Timber decking.
      4. Drainage in communal areas.
    7. Provide clarification to this service and the residents as to whether the leak under the communal terrace was assessed by the independent surveyor as agreed during the complaints process. If it was not, the landlord should arrange for this item to be assessed by the independent surveyor.
    8. Follow up with the independent surveyor regarding their findings on the building work carried out in July 2020 in relation to the internet connection as this was missed in their report of 2 June 2021.
    9. Comply with the above orders [f to h] within eight weeks.

 

 

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