28 September 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 leaseholder 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:
- handling of the leaseholder’s reports of a leak into the ceiling of her storage area.
- response to the leaseholder’s request for repairs or compensation to cover the resulting damage to her property.
Background and summary of events
- The leaseholder has the lease for the property and the landlord is the freeholder. The property is a flat. The leaseholder rents it to a tenant
- The leaseholder contacted the landlord on 2 October 2020. She said her tenant reported to her “some issues with the roof and rainwater”. She advised that the landlord’s surveyor was at the property that day and would be dealing with the issue as soon as possible. The landlord later internally advised that the surveyor was present when the leaseholder’s tenants were emptying their storage cupboard and found a leak.
- On 5 October 2020 the surveyor attended the property. He was unable to tell how long the roof leak was present because the cupboard had not been accessed for some time. According to the landlord’s later complaint response, on 5 October 2020 it informed the leaseholder that the roof repair was “with [the surveyor] for actioning”. On 5 October 2020 the landlord provided the leaseholder with the contact details for its building insurance company.
- The leaseholder informed the landlord on 21 October 2020 that she spoke with the insurance company and arranged for them to visit to assess the damage. There was a £250 excess fee and the leaseholder asked if the landlord would reimburse her because “the damage was caused due to maintenance issues and not accident related”. The landlord informed the leaseholder on 23 October 2020 that it would consider her request.
- An internal email dated 23 October 2020 from the surveyor states that the original leak had been found at the start of October while he had been at the property, and that “Leak originating from the lead valley directly above the cupboard…Roofing dispatched a cherry picker to investigate Monday 5th October.”
- In a call with the landlord on 29 October 2020, the leaseholder said she was told the roof leak had been fixed, but it had returned and was now affecting other areas of the property. She confirmed she had started a claim under the block insurance policy but disputed having to pay the £250 excess.
- The landlord internally advised on 6 November 2020 that it had spoken with the leaseholder, who requested an update. The landlord noted that the leaseholder said she contacted the landlord on 9 October 2020 and was told that there was a storm due. It was therefore unsafe for the roofing contractors to attend, but they would attend on 11 October 2020. The leaseholder had temporarily stopped her insurance claim until the leak was fixed.
- On 10 November 2020 the leaseholder advised the landlord that she was under the impression the roof had been fixed, because her tenant said her neighbour’s bathroom ceiling had been fixed. The leaseholder asked if the works were complete and for a breakdown of the repairs. The landlord replied on 12 November 2020 that the roof had not yet been repaired, but had been allocated as a priority.
- On 13 November 2020 the landlord told the leaseholder that scaffolding would be erected on 19 November 2020 and work completed before 9 December 2020.
- The landlord spoke with the leaseholder on 16 November 2020 and said that it would only pay the excess on the insurance policy if it was negligent in handling the repair. The leaseholder was unhappy that she was only told on 13 November 2020 that the works would commence on 19 November 2020. She said she would be raising a complaint.
- The leaseholder raised a complaint on 21 December 2020 about the landlord’s communication, and delays completing the repair. She said she had had difficulty obtaining information about the repair and the expected timeframe. She confirmed the landlord gave her the building insurer’s details, but she felt she should not be responsible for contacting them or paying the excess fees. She also raised issues about customer service, which are not part of the complaint she has brought to the Ombudsman.
- The landlord acknowledged the complaint on 22 December 2020 and advised it would respond in line with its complaints procedure, which it provided.
- In the landlord’s stage one response, dated 7 January 2021, it said that the leak could have been present for some time because the leaseholder’s tenants had not accessed the cupboard. It said its roofing contractor attended to investigate, identified the issue and a quotation was provided. The landlord explained that due to a high volume of roofing work there was a delay in receiving the quote and apologised. However, it said that, while there was a delay in the works being undertaken, the leak being undiscovered for some time would have contributed to the damage caused within the storage area.
- The leaseholder asked to escalate her complaint on 18 January 2021. She explained that she remained unhappy with the landlord’s communication regarding the repair, which was completed in early December 2020. She said she emailed the landlord on 5, 21, and 29 October 2020 and 10 November 2020, but was only informed on 12 November 2020 what works were required and that they would be done as a priority. She then heard nothing further, until she called on 20 November 2020.
- The leaseholder said that, because she was not updated, she was unable to arrange for any temporary repairs while the leak continued. Because the issue was with the building’s roof, which was the landlord’s responsibility to maintain, the leaseholder felt she should not pay the £250 insurance excess for repairs to her property.
- Finally, the leaseholder provided further information on the calls in which she was unhappy with the landlord’s employees’ conduct.
- The landlord acknowledged the stage two acknowledgement on 22 January 2021 and said it would respond by 2 March 2021. On 4 March 2021 the landlord updated the leaseholder that it would respond by 16 March 2021
- In the landlord’s final response, dated 16 March 2021, it acknowledged that “there were intermittent periods” when it did not update the leaseholder on the repair. It explained that between September and December 2020 there were a lot of roof works and also various quotations from its sole contractor, which was attempting to shorten timescales as efficiently as possible. Additionally, the landlord said that, due to health and safety issues, roof works could not commence if it was too wet or windy. The landlord said that, due to unpredictable weather, it was difficult to arrange the repair and provide the leaseholder an accurate timeframe. The landlord said that the repair was “completed in a shorter time scale than most” and was prioritised, although the work fell slightly outside the 20–day turn around expected.
- The landlord said that both leaseholders and tenants are encouraged to take out insurance in the event of a leak, as it did not insure leaseholders’ possessions and it was not responsible for any insurance excess. It confirmed it discussed the leaseholder’s comments about its employees’ conduct with their team manager, who would raise them with the employees confirmed. The landlord apologised for any upset caused.
- The landlord concluded that the leak had been there for some time unnoticed and unreported, and it took steps to inspect and complete the repair within a reasonable timescale.
- The leaseholder has said in her complaint to the Ombudsman that the leak was in her storage area located within the internal communal area. She said the repair work was completed around 7 December 2020, and that there was damage to the ceiling of the storage area.
Assessment and findings
Policies and procedures
- The landlord’s leaseholder handbook confirms the landlord is responsible for repairing and maintaining communal (shared) areas, including the roof. It says leaseholders will have to contribute towards the cost of cleaning, maintenance, repair and improvements.
- In line with the leaseholder handbook, any repair reported will fall into a priority category, depending on the nature and urgency of the defect (A: Immediate response, B: Action within 24 hours, C: Action within 5 working days, D: Action within 20 working days).
- The leaseholder handbook says the landlord takes out building insurance for every leaseholder, which covers: the structure, common parts of the house or block, and permanent fixtures inside the property. The contents of the property such as furniture and other personal possessions are not covered by buildings insurance and leaseholders are advised to take out their own contents insurance policy. Leaseholders must make a claim on the building insurance only if part of the building they are responsible for maintaining is also damaged. If the insurance company is not prepared to pay the claim, the leaseholder will be responsible for paying the costs.
- The landlord’s leasehold flat insurance guide says the leasehold insurance of a flat usually relates to all permanent items within the four walls of the flat, such as permanent “fixtures and fittings”, including floorboards and plaster to walls and ceiling, but not usually the external or structural walls which are the responsibility of the landlord as the freeholder. The excess for storm, flood, escape of water, is £250 per claim.
Handling of the leaseholder’s reports of a leak into the ceiling of her storage area
- By their nature, roof leaks are difficult to identify the cause of and rectify, often requiring the use of specialised operatives and equipment. Because of that, it is not unusual for a repair to a leak from the roof to exceed a landlord’s typical 20-28 day repair timeframe. Exceeding such timeframes is not, in itself, an indication of service failure, provided that the evidence shows the landlord was actively working to resolve the problem during that time, and that it was communicating with and updating the tenant on a reasonable basis.
- It stands to reason that, generally, a landlord requires notification of a repair issue in a tenant’s home before it can be expected to respond to it. Based on the information provided, the leak was reported to the landlord on 2 October 2020. A surveyor attended on 5 October, and work (involving the use of a cherry picker hoist) was scheduled to start on 9 October, which was delayed to 11 October due to bad weather. The need for scaffolding was identified, which was scheduled for 19 November. The works were completed around 7 December. The time taken (46 days) clearly exceeded the landlord’s usual 20-day repair timeframe. However, the landlord responded promptly to the leak report, arranged initial work quickly in October, and completed the repairs within a relatively short period after the scaffolding was erected. In the circumstances of a roof leak, and the need for scaffolding and a cherry picker inspection — which can itself be a significant delay— the time taken by the landlord was reasonable.
- Part of the leaseholder’s concerns centred on the level of information and updates the landlord was giving her. In the circumstances of an extended repair period, communication by the landlord is important, and the leaseholder’s concerns were valid ones. The evidence shows that the leaseholder spoke with the landlord about the repairs and insurance multiple times in October and November (albeit that she initiated many of those discussions), and that the landlord updated her about its repair plans in November. The resident was frustrated that the landlord did not tell her until 13 November that it needed to use scaffolding to complete the repairs. However, nothing in the evidence indicates that there was a delay between that decision being made and communicating it. Overall, while the leaseholder’s desire for a speedy resolution and more definitive updates from the landlord was understandable, the updates and information that it provided were of a reasonable level.
The landlord’s response to the leaseholder’s request for compensation for the damage to her property
- The landlord’s building insurance guide makes clear that it generally covers claims in situations very much in line with the leaseholder’s. Specifically, damage to fixtures and fittings (including ceilings) resulting from “storm, flood, escape of water”.
- The leaseholder was correct to say that the landlord was responsible for the roof, and therefore for resolving the leak from it. However, leaks occur for a wide range of reasons, many outside anyone’s control. A landlord would usually be expected to consider providing compensation for the consequences of such a repair issue if the evidence showed its own actions, or inaction, was a contributing factor. Nothing in the evidence provided for this investigation indicates the landlord contributed to the leak, that it had reason to suspect its presence prior to the discovery in early October 2020, or that the damage significantly worsened while the landlord was undertaking the repair. Accordingly, it was appropriate and reasonable for the landlord to refer the leaseholder to the relevant insurer, which was in this case the building insurers.
- In accordance with paragraph 54 of the Housing Ombudsman Scheme, there was no maladministration by the landlord in respect of:
- Its handling of the leaseholder’s reports of a leak into the ceiling of her storage area.
- Its response to the leaseholder’s request for compensation for the damage to her property
- While the time taken for the repair exceeded the landlord’s usual 20-day repair timeframe, the landlord responded promptly to the leak report, arranged initial work quickly in October, and completed the repairs shortly after scaffolding was erected. In the circumstances, the time taken by the landlord was reasonable and the updates and information that it provided was of a reasonable level. Nothing in the evidence provided indicates the landlord contributed to the leak or that the damage significantly worsened while the landlord was undertaking the repair.