Registered providers (RPs) of social housing should not let the threat of legal proceedings stop them from dealing with complaints, and from maintaining and repairing homes; and neither should they have policies in place which prevent them from doing so.
Quite often when legal proceedings are instigated by a tenant, they may be advised by their lawyers not to permit the landlord entry to the premises to carry out any such required repairs. When complaints are received, however, the RP should continue to handle that complaint and carry out repairs irrespective of whether a legal claim has been issued.
Recent high profile news stories involving mould and other types of disrepair mean that the issue has risen up RPs’ agendas.
When a tenant has refused access, the provider should consider other methods of gaining access, including obtaining an injunction.
The vast majority of tenancy agreements will contain an express clause permitting access to the RP on reasonable notice. Typically, this will be 48 hours written notice, although that timeframe is often shortened for emergency works.
Most tenancy agreements will require such a notice to be in writing and sent to the property by post. Of course, more modern methods of communication can be deployed, but RPs should do this in addition to compliance with the notice provisions in the tenancy agreement.
If access is repeatedly denied, and an injunction is required, keeping a documents trail is key to ultimately securing one. It would be prudent to adhere to a ‘three strikes and out’ policy when sending the request for access. This will strengthen any application for an injunction since you will be able to demonstrate repeated and unreasonable refusals by the tenant.
Once the injunction has been made by the court, it will need to be served on the tenant, and any conditions attached to the order will need to be complied with by the RP.
It is recommended that legal advice should be sought when an RP is considering applying for an injunction.
The shocking inquest into the death of a two-year-old boy, Awaab Ishak, in 2020 highlights the importance of carrying out maintenance and repairs. It concluded that Awaab had died as a result of a severe respiratory condition, caused by prolonged exposure to mould in his home. His home was a social housing flat managed by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), which is an RP.
In Awaab Ishak’s case, as legal proceedings had been instigated by Awaab’s family in respect of this mould, this led to RBH slowing down its response in dealing with the issue.
As a result, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove, wrote to all RPs on 19 November 2022, setting out his expectations that ‘where people complain about damp and mould, you must listen; where you find them, you must take prompt action. To keep tenants safe, you must not hide behind legal process.’
Furthermore, the Housing Ombudsman’s guidance on the Pre Action-Protocol for Housing Condition Claims and service complaints makes it clear that if an RP receives pre-action protocol correspondence, then it must still continue with its own internal complaints process and the required repairs. The guidance itself states:
‘The Ombudsman also stresses the importance of landlords remaining committed to inspecting properties as soon as a claim is raised and to completing the repairs needed as soon as is practicable. Where a resident has been advised by a solicitor to deny access to complete the repairs, the landlord should consider alternative methods of gaining access, such as seeking an injunction.’
This is of particular importance given the regulatory changes that are being introduced in respect of the consumer standards and tenant satisfaction measures.