Vivid Housing Limited
25 August 2021
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 is about the landlord’s:
- response to the resident’s reports of defects at the property,
- response to the resident’s reports of problems with the cleaning of the communal areas and maintenance of the grounds at the property,
- response to the resident’s concerns relating to the condition of the wider estate,
- complaints handling.
Background and summary of events
- The resident is an assured tenant of a new build property owned by the landlord. The property is a two bedroom flat and the tenancy commenced on 27 November 2019.
- The tenancy agreement says that there is no additional charge for any communal and estate services for the benefit of the property as the cost is included in the rent.
- The landlord’s residents’ handbook says that “A defect is defined as a fault with a property attributable to poor workmanship or faulty materials or systems...Where these occur within the first year these may be the developer’s responsibility to put right…You must report defects to the first contact team …and we will arrange for the developer to carry out the works. …Any minor works may not be carried out before the 12 month defect period expires. Please make a note of these. 12 months after handover from the developer to [the landlord] an end of defect period inspection of your home will be arranged and attended by both the developer and [the landlord] ... Before this takes place it would be helpful if you could make a note of any outstanding or non-urgent defects which can be recorded at the time of the inspection.”
- The landlord has a two stage complaints procedure. At stage one the landlord will aim to carry out a full investigation and communicate its findings within 10 working days. If this isn’t possible, the landlord will inform the resident within 10 working days when it expects to deliver a full response.
- On moving to the property, the resident was informed that there were a number of outstanding ‘snags’.
- On the following dates the resident reported issues to the landlord:
- 2 February 2020: issues with the landscaping,
- 21 February 2020: light in communal area not working,
- 10 March 2020: fire door not closing properly,
- 17 April 2020: crack in wall surrounding window,
- 13 May 2020: faulty lift,
- 20 May 2020 poor fitting of gutter downpipes,
- 20 May 2020 lift doors sticking,
- 22 May 2020: crack in window and silicone coming away,
- 8 June 2020 bin store door hinge broken
- 6 June 2020 standpipe not working.
- 7 July 2020 the canopy above the front door to the property coming away,
- 8 July 2020 broken communal door handle.
- On 28 March 2020 the Government issued guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities concerning the Covid 19 pandemic. The guidance recommended that “access to a property is only proposed for serious and urgent repairs.”
- On 18 May 2020 the Housing Minister sent a letter to all social housing residents saying that “As we start to ease lockdown measures, landlords should be able to carry out routine as well as essential repairs for most households. There will be a backlog of repairs that they will need to address, so it may take longer than normal to carry out more non-essential work…”
- On 1 June 2020 the Government issued updated guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities concerning the Covid 19 pandemic. The guidance said that landlords “can now take steps to address wider issues of repairs and safety inspections, provided these are undertaken in line with public health advice” and that “Where workforce is available and resources allow, landlords or contractors are now able to visit most properties to carry out both routine and essential inspections and repairs, as well as any planned internal works.”
- Whilst there is evidence that the landlord referred all the issues raised by the resident set out in paragraph 7 above to the developer the issues remained unresolved. On 10 July 2020 the resident made a complaint to the landlord by telephone that:
- none of the snags outstanding when he moved to the property had been completed
- whilst the developer had addressed some defects that he had reported to the landlord, there were a number still outstanding at the property,
- the street lights installed by the developer did not work,
- the communal areas, including the windows and the estate grounds, had not been cleaned or maintained for at least six months. The resident had been cleaning the communal areas and cutting the grass himself,
- as the developer had not completed the work necessary in the building the management company had not taken over the cleaning, so nothing had been done in the block,
- there was no signage on the estate and the resident had installed some himself,
- the resident had asked the landlord to install cigarette bins at the entrance to the block,
- the resident had asked the landlord to install CCTV.
- On 23 July 2020 the landlord emailed the resident to advise that it had asked the developer’s site team for an update. On 24 July 2020 the landlord sent a further email to the resident confirming that the developer would be contacting him to make an appointment to complete the outstanding defects at the property.
- On 23 July 2020 the landlord also informed the resident that “With regards to the communal parts, the management company will be taking responsibility of these shortly. Apologies for the delay in this however we are confident that these areas will improve once handed over.”
- The resident replied to the landlord on 24 July 2020 saying “I appreciate you chasing people but this has been ongoing since I moved in last November and all I’m ever told is that the Site Team have been chased and nothing happens which is why I’ve raised the complaint after being so patient and getting nowhere. I’m not getting satisfactory responses to all of the points I raised in my complaint… Can you also please specify when [the management company] are due to take over management of the block rather than simply state soon?”
- The landlord’s records show that it spoke to the resident to update him about the points raised in his complaint on 6 August 2020, 21 August 2020, 4 September 2020 and 11 September 2020.
- During September and October 2020, the resident reported further defects at the property to the landlord.
- During October and November 2020, the landlord’s contractors contacted the residents of the block asking about any outstanding defects as part of the end of defect period inspection. On 22 October 2020 the landlord wrote to the resident saying “I can assure you that [the developer] will complete all outstanding defects as they are committed to do this contractually. [Contractors] will be carrying out an inspection of all communal areas internally and externally and again [the developer] will need to complete any item identified on these inspections. Please note that [the contractors] are aware of all outstanding defects on the flats and in communal areas and we are working with [the developers] to complete these. These have all been reported well within the defect period therefore will be completed by [the developers]”.
- The landlord’s end of defects spreadsheets mentions “street lights non-functional” as an external defect.
- On 3 November 2020 the landlord’s development manager sent an internal email to another member of the landlord’s staff saying “It is not in the development specification for cigarette bins to be installed. None were required to be provided by [the developer]”.
- On 5 November 2020 the landlord sent the resident its stage one complaint response. In its response the landlord:
- explained that there had been some outstanding items that had needed to be resolved by the developer before the block was handed over to the management company to manage. The landlord apologised that these items had been overlooked,
- confirmed that the management company had taken over responsibility for the block on 1 November 2020,
- explained that the communal grounds were split into two areas. The land running parallel to the railway lines would eventually be adopted and maintained by the local authority. The communal grounds around the block would now be maintained by the management company. The landlord acknowledged that both areas should have been maintained by the developer and it apologised that this had not happened. The landlord also said that it would work with the developer to ensure that “they maintain the area parallel to the railway line until it is adopted.”,
- listed the snags and defects that the resident had reported to it which remained outstanding. The landlord explained that due to the Covid 19 pandemic restrictions there was a back log of work for the developer and all defects were taking longer to resolve than they previously would have. It said that the resident would be contacted about all the outstanding items in due course and that it would continue to chase the developer on his behalf and check in with him on a weekly basis until all the items were resolved,
- said that the developer had informed it that it had difficulty with the electricity supplier to the streetlights and would be installing solar powered streetlights instead. The landlord said it was chasing the developer for an installation date.
- explained that the management company had now installed additional signage to the front and rear of the property and further signage would be installed shortly,
- explained that the cigarette bins that had been installed at other blocks on the estate had been installed by the management company. The landlord said that now the management company had taken over the communal and ground maintenance they would “be clearing up any discarded cigarette butts and will possibly install a bin if the need is there”,
- said that it was not considering installing CCTV at the property,
- apologised for the lack of cleaning to the block and offered the resident a payment of £50,
- apologised for the lack of grounds maintenance and offered the resident a further payment of £50,
- said that in the future it would ensure that it worked with the developers more closely to try and resolve issues in a timely fashion.
- On 16 November 2020 the resident emailed the landlord saying he was unhappy with its response to his complaint and the amount of compensation offered.
- On 9 December 2020 the landlord issued its stage two response to the complaint. In its response the landlord:
- repeated that the developer had delayed addressing defects because of the Covid 19 restrictions and most developers had a back log of about 6 months, but acknowledged that some of the defects were reported well before the 2020 lockdown,
- explained that it had raised the resident’s concerns with the developer and sought assurances on its performance moving forward. The landlord said that it would “continue to monitor and chase [the developer] on your behalf regularly and will check in with you on a weekly basis until all the remaining defects, and once agreed, the end of defect remedials in your home and block have been completed.”
- explained that a lesson it had learnt from the complaint was that the landlord needed to monitor the handover process to a management company more closely. The landlord said that it would amend its processes accordingly to try and prevent the situation experienced by the resident from occurring again,
- explained that the delay in providing the complaint response was because of a reasoning that the complaint should be kept open until all matters were resolved. The landlord apologised that this hadn’t been made clear to him,
- explained that, following advice from the Ombudsman, it had changed its policy about keeping complaints open,
- in recognition of the lack of cleaning and grounds maintenance that was carried out until the management company was in place, and also to “reflect the time it has taken to resolve a number of issues” increased its compensation offer to £200.
- The landlord’s stage two complaint response dated 9 December 2020 was the landlord’s final response to the complaint, confirming that its internal complaints procedure had been exhausted.
Assessment and findings
The complaint about the landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of defects at the property
- Contracts for new buildings have defect liability periods within which the landlord can ask developers to repair any inherent defects that are discovered. It was therefore appropriate (and in accordance with the provisions of the landlord’s resident’s handbook) that the landlord responded to the resident’s reports of defects in the property by raising his concerns with the developer. However, having raised these concerns the landlord would be obliged to take reasonable steps to ensure that the developers remedied the defects.
- There was service failure by the landlord in its response to the resident’s reports of defects at the property as:
- whilst some delay in addressing the defects can be attributed to the Covid 19 pandemic restrictions, some of the outstanding defects had been reported prior to the pandemic, and
- whilst there is evidence that the landlord referred the defects reported by the resident to the developer, the Ombudsman has not seen evidence to demonstrate that the landlord was actively engaged with the developer to check on its progress in addressing the defects until after the resident’s formal complaint in July 2020.
The complaint about the landlord’s response to problems with the cleaning of the communal areas and grounds maintenance at the property
- When there are failings by a landlord, as is the case here, the Ombudsman will consider whether the redress offered by the landlord put things right and resolved the complainant’s complaint satisfactorily in the circumstances. In considering this the Ombudsman takes into account whether the landlord’s offer of redress was in line with the Ombudsman’s Dispute Resolution Principles; be fair, put things right and learn from outcomes.
- In responding to this aspect of the complaint the landlord acted fairly by apologising that:
- some aspects that needed addressing by the developer had been overlooked and this had delayed the handover of responsibility for the cleaning of the communal areas and maintenance of the grounds to the management company, and
- the communal grounds had not been maintained by the developer during the defects period.
- The landlord demonstrated that it had learnt from outcomes by:
- offering to work with the developer to ensure that it maintained the area parallel to the railway line until it was adopted by the local authority, and
- acknowledging that it needed to monitor the handover process to a management company more closely and that it would amend its processes to try and prevent the situation experienced by the resident from occurring again.
- The landlord also offered compensation of £200. This amount is within the range of remedies set out in the Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies that may be used where there has been a service failure which had an impact on the resident but was of short duration and may not have significantly affected the overall outcome for the resident. The impact experienced by the resident could include time and trouble, disappointment and delays in getting matters resolved.
- For the reasons set out in paragraphs 27 to 29 the Ombudsman considers that the landlord has made redress to the resident which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the complaint satisfactorily. The measures taken by the landlord to redress what went wrong were proportionate to the impact that its failures had on the resident.
Complaint about the landlord’s response to the resident’s concerns relating to the condition of the wider estate
- The landlord’s response to this aspect of the complaint was reasonable as:
- it arranged for signage to be installed on the property, in response to the resident’s request,
- it was not in the development specification for cigarette bins to be installed and therefore none were required to be provided by the developer,
- there was no requirement under the tenancy agreement for the landlord to provide CCTV at the estate.
- There was therefore no maladministration by the landlord in respect of this aspect of the complaint.
The landlord’s complaints handling
- The landlord provided its response to the resident’s formal complaint 93 working days after he made the complaint, 83 working days after the 10 working days’ time frame set out in the landlord’s complaints procedure.
- In its stage two complaint response the landlord acted fairly by apologising to the resident that it hadn’t made clear to him that it would be delaying the complaint response until all matters were resolved.
- The landlord demonstrated that it had learnt from outcomes by changing its policy about keeping complaints open.
- However, the delay in providing a response to the complaint was significant and an apology did not put this right. The Ombudsman would expect the landlord to have offered the resident compensation for its complaint handling failings.
- The Ombudsman considers that the landlord’s response to this aspect of the complaint was not proportionate, and that the landlord has not made redress to the resident which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the complaint satisfactorily.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was service failure by the landlord in respect of the complaints about:
- the landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of defects at the property,
- the landlord’s complaint handling.
- In accordance with paragraph 55 (b) of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, the Ombudsman considers that the landlord has made redress to the resident which, in the Ombudsman’s opinion, resolves the following complaint satisfactorily: the complaint about the landlord’s response to the resident’s reports of problems with the cleaning of the communal areas and grounds maintenance at the property.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme there was no maladministration by the landlord in respect of the complaint about the landlord’s response to the resident’s reports relating to the condition of the wider estate
- The landlord was not actively engaged with the developer to check on its progress in addressing the defects until after the resident’s formal complaint in July 2020.
- The landlord’s complaints handling showed significant and inappropriate delay.
- The measures taken by the landlord to redress what went wrong in relation to the cleaning of the communal areas and the grounds maintenance were proportionate to the impact that its failures had on the resident.
- The landlord’s response to the complaint about the condition of the wider estate was reasonable as it arranged for signage to be installed and it was under no obligation to install cigarette bins or CCTV.
Orders and recommendations
- The landlord is ordered within four weeks of the date of the determination to pay the resident a total of £425 compensation made up as follows:
- £200 compensation previously offered, if this has not already been paid,
- £100 for the distress and inconvenience incurred by the resident as a result of the landlord’s failings in responding to his reports of defects at the property,
- £125 for the distress and inconvenience incurred by the resident as a result of the landlord’s failings in complaints handling.
- The landlord is ordered within four weeks of the date of the determination to contact the resident to see if any of the defects identified as outstanding at the end of the defects period are still outstanding and, if so, within 2 weeks of this liaise with the developer and confirm in writing to the resident what works will be carried out and the target date for these to be completed.