Successful compensation claim for council house tenant
Expert housing disrepair litigator Tony Fearnley successfully claimed compensation on behalf of a disabled woman who made to live in dreadful conditions in her poorly maintained council house in the Greater Manchester area.
What was the case?
AWH Solicitors received instructions to act on behalf of the Claimant Miss C. to seek an order for specific performance against the Defendant; the local council, in relation to repairs that were required to the Claimant’s property, and to seek damages in relation to the same.
The Claimant had entered into a tenancy agreement with the Defendant and it was the Defendant’s obligation under the terms of that agreement to keep the interior and exterior of the building in good repair.
The Claimant had complained to the Defendant on several occasions since 2013 in relation to damp, leaks and faulty windows at the property, but no remedial action had been taken.
The damp and leakage problems had persisted to such an extent that they were causing the Claimant extreme inconvenience and were causing her continued health problems and psychological stress.
Mould and damp main issues due to health implications
Mould was present on all walls in the hallway, living room, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.
In addition, windows did not fully close, plaster was coming off the walls, drains were blocked and all radiators were rusty. To the exterior of the property, brickwork was damaged and mortar was missing.
Having taken detailed instructions from the Claimant, a site visit was carried out at the property and a draft schedule of disrepair was prepared, together with photographs of the defects.
Letter of claim sent to defendant
A Letter of Claim was sent to the Defendant in September 2017.
A response to the same was chased in October 2017. Following a telephone conversation with the Defendant, a copy of the Letter of Claim, relevant form of authority, draft letter of instruction to the surveyor and accompanying CV were forwarded to the Metropolitan Borough Council, the Defendant’s nominated claims handlers.
The Defendant’s solicitors responded by letter dated in November 2017 and advised that their instructed surveyor would be in touch with a view to arranging a joint inspection of the property with the Claimant’s surveyor.
Disclosure of documents
The Defendant’s solicitors were of the opinion that the Defendant had also provided the relevant disclosure documents. However, this was not the case and a copy of the Defendant’s response to the Letter of Claim was requested.
The Defendant’s disclosure documents including:
- rent statement,
- works order,
- repairs history,
- electrical installation certificates,
- adaptations checklist,
- copy correspondence,
- moving in checklist and
- tenancy visit notes,
were received end of November 2017.
It was noted that the Defendant’s servants/agents/employees had visited the property on numerous occasions to deal with defective central heating, yet none of them picked up on the dampness issues.
Damages to personal belongings
Having requested further information from the Claimant regarding damaged property and belongings, she confirmed that a corner settee, dressing table, televisions, wardrobe, king size bed with mattress, microwave, CD player, carpets, bedding, clothes and shoes had all been affected or destroyed by the damp and moisture within the property.
The joint inspection report was received early January 2018, which recorded significant dampness in the bathroom and kitchen due to a prolonged leak from the kitchen sink.
What the independent inspection report showed
The kitchen fittings required removal along with defective plastering, both of which needed to be replaced. The respective surveyors also agreed that the Claimant should be placed in alternative accommodation whilst the remedial works were carried out.
The Claimant’s surveyor estimated the cost of repairs at £12,804.75 whereas the Defendant’s surveyor estimated the significantly reduced sum of £6,270.76.
The Defendant’s solicitors were urged to relocate the Claimant as a matter of urgency due to her mental and physical ailments. Due to the Defendant's lack of progress a response had to be chased one week later.
At this stage the Defendant’s solicitors made a without prejudice settlement proposal in the global sum of £1,000.00. In addition, they proposed that the recommended works be carried out within 60 days.
In response, the Defendant’s solicitors were advised that their minimum settlement offer was premature and an urgent response was requested with regards to the Claimant’s temporary removal from the property as requested multiple times before.
The Defendant’s solicitors were advised that any temporary accommodation would require disabled access and various adaptations for use of the toilet and bathing facilities.
The Defendant was advised, and therefore fully aware, that the Claimant was suffering from a severe chest infection as a result of the mould and damp within the property.
Temporary accommodation for the claimant
Finally, four months after the case was started the Defendant’s solicitors informed the claimant that they had found temporary accommodation 0.3 miles from her home, and that remedial works could commence within three to four weeks.
They stated that they wanted matters to be expedited and that they were pursuing all avenues to accommodate the Claimant’s request for works to be brought forward.
At the end of January 2018, the Defendant’s solicitors advised that the potential alternative accommodation also required minor works and that they were looking into a possible relocation to a hotel instead of the initial property. At this stage the Defendant failed to mention the Claimant's need for ground floor accommodation due to her disability and use of her mobility scooter.
An update had to be chased on multiple occasions as the Defendant's solicitors had not yet confirm if they would cover the cost of moving the Claimant’s furniture, personal effects and storage costs.
Details of the suggested hotel were also requested by the Claimant as she needed to assess if she thought the hotel, 1.6 miles from her home, was suitable for her specific needs.
Chasing for answers
An update on the remedial works to the temporary accommodation was requested early February as no update had yet been given. The Defendant’s solicitors were advised that should the alternative property not be available within 14 days, the Claimant would require accommodation for her pets whilst she moved into the hotel. A response had to be chased mid February 2018 as frustratingly again no answer was given.
Following a medical appointment the Claimant’s GP confirmed in writing that the Claimant’s asthma had intensified by the mould and dampness within her home and stressed that she should be relocated at soon as possible.
On the 20th of February 2018 the Defendant was advised that six weeks had passed since receipt of the joint inspection report and an urgent, substantive response was requested to avoid the need for an application for injunctive relief to unblock the impasse caused by the Defendant’s procrastination.
The Defendant’s solicitors eventually responded with a schedule of proposed works, scheduled to commence approximately one month outside of their original time scale, and confirmed that they would cover the cost of accommodating the Claimant’s pets for the duration of the works.
Details of works to be carried out to the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, lounge, communal area and heating were also provided.
Further information same to light
Having given permission for her mother to discuss matters, further information came to light regarding the property since the Claimant had moved in.
According to the mother the Claimant had suffered multiple seizures as a result of mental and physical strains caused by the state of the property, and that the Defendant was aware of her disabilities.
The Claimant’s solicitor was informed that upon moving in, the Claimant was advised to paint the walls with anti-fungal paint to cover the already present mould and that the Defendant only superficially treated the corners of certain rooms for the existing mould problem.
Furthermore, the Claimant was advised to clean the greasy kitchen with bleach, a carcinogen which would have triggered her asthma. It was highlighted that the Claimant also had to top up her boiler in winter months and was without heating for approximately ten days in negative temperature conditions.
According to this statement, the Defendant only provided their tenant with a small fan heater and de-humidifier.
The intermittent boiler indicated a long-term leakage from central heating pipes. A fact further supported by the fact that the Claimant was required to top it up with water on a near-hourly basis.
It further came to light that the surveyors did not properly have access to the living room and bedroom. These developments were submitted to the Defendant’s solicitors and the Claimant applied for a permanent transfer from the property at the end of February.
By e-mail the Defendant’s solicitors confirmed that they had finally arranged a one week stay at a hotel nearby.
However, it was also confirmed that there was no space to store the Claimant's mobility scooter and that it would remain the Claimant’s responsibility. It was strongly suggested to the Defendant’s solicitors that they identify alternative accommodation as a matter of urgency; one that provided accessible laundry services and space for the Claimant’s mobility scooter.
The Defendant’s solicitors were reminded again that it had been two months since the joint inspection report was obtained and the need for temporary accommodation was identified.
There had been no subsequent mention of the alternative accommodation 0.3 miles from the Claimant’s home which also required minor remedial works.
The Defendant’s solicitors stated within correspondence that they had provided a schedule of works and made a low offer of compensation in the sum of £1,000.00. At this stage no mention was made of any of the issues mentioned above.
Instructions were sent to Counsel mid March to advise on merits, quantum and to prepare draft Particulars of Claim. By letter, the Defendant’s solicitors were asked to clarify their position on liability.
Lack of progress
Given the lack of progress with remedial works and temporary accommodation, the Claimant wrote to her local Member of Parliament detailing her struggles.
In March 2018, six months after the case started, the Defendant’s solicitors finally advised that an alternative property would soon be available. They suggested that the Claimant arrange a suitable date and time to view the property before making arrangements to move in.
At this time the Defendant’s solicitors stated in their letter that they accepted no liability for missing mortar and damaged brickwork to the original home, no liability for defective flooring, made no concessions as to the hallway, denied liability with regards to the bedroom, and accepted no liability for the bathroom.
Liability was only admitted in respect of dampness and mould growth in the kitchen. The defendant alleged that the Claimant had failed to grant the Defendant’s servant/agent/employee access to the property to carry out moisture tests and the Defendant’s solicitors reiterated their without prejudice settlement proposal of £1,000.00 in settlement of general and special damages.
Another letter was obtained from the Claimant’s GP which confirmed that the Claimant’s living situation was affecting her breathing problems and mental state.
Having viewed the Defendant’s suggested alternative property, it became clear that the Claimant would require a ramp to access the property, laminate flooring instead of carpets to ease the use of her mobility scooter and the installation of rails to hang clothes.
Counsel’s advice was received in April and instructions were taken from the Claimant with regards to moving permanently into the Defendant’s suggested alternative accommodation.
The Claimant did not feel, from both a physical and mental perspective, that she would be able to cope with a second move once the remedial works within her home has been completed.
The Claimant then made a without prejudice settlement proposal in the sum of £10,500.00.
It was also suggested that the Defendant cover the cost of the Claimant’s move to alternative accommodation and all other costs associated with the removal of furniture and personal effects.
The Defendant was also asked to confirm whether they would offer the permanent secure tenancy in respect of the alternative accommodation.
Continued issues for the claimant
The Claimant continued to experience difficulties within her home and it was reported that she was without electricity for several hours and the engineers who reinstated the power commented that the fuse box and other electrical installations within the property and hallway were potential fire hazards.
By e-mail, the Defendant’s solicitors advised that they were taking instructions upon the Claimant’s without prejudice settlement proposal in the sum of £10,500.00, along with the prospect of the Claimant permanently moving into alternative accommodation rather than a temporary relocation.
Following a visit from a gas safety engineer, the Claimant was advised that 149 litres of water was considered to be normal usage for a single occupancy flat.
Due to the various leakages and issues with her boiler, the Claimant was using 480 - 560 litres per day. The gas engineer expressed grave concern at where this excess water was draining and recommended a full assessment of the property once the flat had been emptied.
This startling information was relayed to the Defendant’s solicitors late April.
The Defendant’s solicitors were reminded by letter that the Letter of Claim was disclosed approximately seven months ago; the joint inspection report was disclosed approximately 3 months ago; yet nothing had been done to rectify or improve the Claimant’s position.
In addition, the Defendant’s solicitors were referred to correspondence from the Claimant’s GP which stated that some of her health issues were directly attributable to her living conditions.
A response was chased to the Claimant’s without prejudice settlement offer in the sum of £10,500.00 and notice was given of the Claimant’s intention to issue legal proceedings.
The defendant contacted the claimant directly
Following further information from the Claimant’s mother, it further transpired that a representative from the Defendant had been in contact with the Claimant directly.
The Defendant’s solicitors were advised of this and it was suggested that any further contact with the Claimant should be made through the respective legal representatives.
A response to the Claimant’s without prejudice settlement proposal was again chased in May. By letter of even date, the Defendant’s solicitors made a without prejudice counter offer in the sum of £3,000.00.
In addition, it was confirmed that the Claimant was able to move to the suggested alternative accommodation on a permanent basis and the costs associated with the move would also be covered by the Defendant.
Further comments from Counsel were obtained given the significant difference in quantum and more realistic settlement proposals were invited from the Defendant’s solicitors.
Having received a visit from an electrician, it was confirmed that the Claimant’s electric meter had not been inspected for approximately five years.
During a telephone conversation in May, the Defendant’s solicitors advised that their without prejudice counter offer in the sum of £3,000.00 was made on the basis that the disrepair within the Claimant’s home had only existed for a period of two months and that this was the extent of their liability.
The defendant's solicitors needed to be reminded of the facts
The Defendant’s solicitors were reminded of the repair notes and works documentation dating back approximately four years. More realistic settlement proposals were chased and in respect of the Claimant’s permanent decant, the Defendant’s solicitors were asked to clarify a number of issues regarding secure tenancy, laminate flooring, a disability ramp at the front of the new property and arrangements for the removal of the Claimant’s belongings.
Once more, the Defendant’s solicitors were reminded that it had now been approximately nine months since the date of the Letter of Claim.
Also on the 10th May 2018, the Defendant’s solicitors returned with confirmation that the Claimant was able to continue with her existing tenancy agreement at the new property, laminate flooring would be installed, a disability assessment was required before a ramp could be installed at the front of the property and that suitable arrangements would be made with regards to the Claimant’s possessions.
Despite the aforementioned progress, the Defendant’s solicitors were once again invited to put forward improved settlement proposals for general damages in order to avoid legal proceedings.
The Defendant’s solicitors were advised by three letters that the Claimant had still not undergone any significant progress with regards to her permanent decant.
The Defendant’s solicitors confirmed that the new accommodation would be habitable within ten days; the costs of moving would be taken care of; the new property now had a gas supply and arrangements would be made to carry out an assessment with a view to having a ramp built at the front of the property.
Furthermore, an improved without prejudice settlement proposal was put forward in the sum of £7,550.00.
Having arranged a meeting with a laminate flooring supplier, neither the Defendant nor their solicitors had arranged for somebody to attend in order to gain access to the property.
Naturally, this resulted in further delays, and an incomplete copy of the Claimant’s tenancy agreement was finally received at the end of May. A completed copy followed a few days later.
Following gas and electricity safety checks, the Claimant eventually relocated to her new accommodation in June, however issues remained regarding the garden and a shed to store her mobility scooter.
In addition, the Claimant had to leave behind her settee, wardrobes, dressing table, bed linen, clothes and shoes because of the mould; and was forced to continue using her badly damaged bed due to lack of funds for a replacement.
After her relocation, the Claimant made a without prejudice counter offer in the sum of £9,550.00. In response, the Defendant’s solicitors made a Part 36 offer in the sum of £9,000.00 by letter dated the 21st June 2018.
Having taken instructions from the Claimant, this offer was formally accepted on the 28th June 2018 and payment was received electronically on the 6th July 2018.
This matter was conducted by Mr. Tony Fearnley, our experienced housing litigator with over 20 years’ relevant experience.
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