At the end of October 2021, the Housing Ombudsman published a report entitled “Spotlight on Damp and Mould, It’s not Lifestyle”.
This report was published following a call for evidence and input from stakeholders regarding damp and mould and it sets out the steps landlords should take regarding their approach to damp and mould and how a proactive approach should be sought instead of a reactive response. You can find the report by following this link.
In order to facilitate the transition to a proactive approach, the Ombudsman provided for 26 recommendations for landlords to implement. A key focus of the report is to shift the blame away from the “lifestyle”, to encourage landlords to take on responsibility for damp and mould and ideally to remove the term “lifestyle” from landlord’s vocabulary. However, this might be a little too aspirational given the way that a small percentage of properties are treated by their occupants.
A number of the recommendations may well prove difficult to implement and will stretch the budgets of most social housing providers well beyond their limit. For example, extending the scope of building diagnosis to neighbouring properties where no complaints have been made and recommending that landlords employ surveyors and train staff such that they have a broader and higher degree of technical expertise sounds excellent in theory.
One of the key themes that comes through the report is that tenants often do not feel heard or do not know that there are alternatives to bringing disrepair claims. If landlords can improve their communication between landlord and tenants as well as internally it is expected that there will be fewer disrepair claims. It is suggested that landlords should do more to promote their internal complaints process and make tenants aware of the Ombudsman. This is a relatively cost-effective way of keeping matters away from expensive litigation.
Another important takeaway from the report is the importance of good record keeping and this is vital for landlords to manage and defeat unsubstantiated disrepair claims. Effective record keeping will assist with timely communication both internally and externally, as well as proactive investigation and accepting responsibility early on where appropriate.
Finally, some of the recommendations seem to indicate that the Ombudsman does not fully appreciate the position on the ground. For example, recommendation 21 suggests that an “independent, mutually agreed and suitably qualified surveyor should be used” where possible. This is a sensible suggestion but independent surveyors, particularly those who are well-qualified and truly independent, are very expensive. In addition, it is not uncommon for law firms specialising in making disrepair claims to suggest experts who are not suitably qualified and not independent meaning it is impossible for a landlord to agree to their instruction.
Fundamentally most of the recommendations made in the Ombudsman’s report are positive and all landlords should do their best to implement them in spite of limited budgets, older buildings and overly litigious law firms who are assisting tenants in bringing these cases despite many not being appropriate for the court process.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at November 2021.