Case Study 35: Repairs – Group complaint by leaseholders - Formally resolved

Mr M brought this complaint to the Ombudsman on behalf of a group of 41 leaseholders. In summary the complaint was about the landlord’s actions following the findings of its complaints panel at the final stage of its complaints procedure. The complaint covered a number of areas, including defects in individual flats and communal areas, the calculation of electricity charges, issues relating to service charge accounts and the landlord’s overall communication with residents on these matters.

Mr M brought this complaint to the Ombudsman on behalf of a group of 41 leaseholders. In summary the complaint was about the landlord’s actions following the findings of its complaints panel at the final stage of its complaints procedure. The complaint covered a number of areas, including defects in individual flats and communal areas, the calculation of electricity charges, issues relating to service charge accounts and the landlord’s overall communication with residents on these matters.

The leaseholders had taken their complaint through the landlord’s internal complaints procedure and were generally satisfied with the complaint panel’s decisions and proposed actions, which were made in June 2012. However in March 2013 the leaseholders complained to us that there had then been little progress in carrying out the panel’s decisions.

We considered whether the landlord had taken reasonable action in response to the findings of the complaints panel. We concluded that there had not been a prompt or effective response to the leaseholders’ complaints about water penetration. The panel had accepted that the conditions in the block were unacceptable and set out the actions necessary to address the defects. However, two years had passed since the panel’s decision and no work had been carried out. The landlord said this was because it was trying to establish liability with the developer of the flats.

We noted that the landlord was responsible for ensuring that its repairing covenants under the lease were complied with, irrespective of any claims it could pursue against the developer or its insurance company. We said that whilst it was appropriate that it had tried to ensure that the developer accepted any liability it may have for construction defects, this did not justify the landlord’s lack of action to address the defects over a two-year period.

We also found that there had been unreasonable delays in issuing the final service charge accounts for 2010/11 and 2011/12, which were not issued until November 2013.

Lastly we found that the level of communication with the leaseholders had been unsatisfactory. The complaints panel accepted in June 2012 that there had been weaknesses in consultation and the landlord committed to holding at least one annual meeting, plus additional meetings on specific issues if necessary. In November 2013 the landlord agreed to meet with the leaseholders to discuss the outstanding issues and set a date for December 2013. However, it later cancelled this meeting and did not meet the leaseholders until late April 2014. Given the nature of the ongoing concerns this was neither reasonable nor appropriate.

We concluded that there had been maladministration by the landlord due to its failure to respond appropriately to three elements of the complaint (defects, service charge administration, and communication). We ordered the landlord to pay each of the leaseholders who were party to the complaint £200 as compensation for its failure to respond to the panel’s findings over a period of two years; to provide the leaseholders with a clear timetable and action plan to address the defects; and to regularly update the leaseholders and meet them at least quarterly until the current issues were resolved, and then on an agreed regular basis.

The landlord accepted our findings and provided us with further information as to the actions it has taken in response to our orders. We noted that there is now a willingness by the landlord to engage in more regular communication with the leaseholders and to learn from this complaint.

This case demonstrated the important of landlords putting things right while a complaint is being considered under its complaints process. The residents in this case had accepted the landlord’s findings and the actions it proposed to take in order to resolve matters, However it was the landlord’s failure to demonstrate any progress on these actions or to keep residents updated which resulted in Mr M referring the complaint to the Ombudsman.