The Property Ombudsman - Complaint relating to parking and outdoor space

The Property Ombudsman helps to resolve complaints between consumers and property agents when things go wrong. In this article they take a look at a complaint relating to car parking and outdoor space.

The Ombudsman’s role is to shine a light on what has gone wrong and adjudicate on unresolved disputes in such a way as to enable both sides to move on.

TPO provides reassurance to consumers and the industry alike that there is an alternative to costly and lengthy court proceedings that can be relied on to provide timely, fair and reasonable remedies in this important sector.

In 2018, TPO resolved 200 complaints relating to residential leasehold management, a figure which is rising, and one of the biggest causes of complaints is not the original problem but the agent’s complaint handling itself.

All too often complaints come to TPO that could and should have been avoided – and would have been, if there had been a culture of unremitting customer care and clear route to complaint handling.

Of course, customers do not expect agents to be perfect, but they do expect them to respond to their complaint and handle it appropriately.

Here is an example of a complaint relating to parking and outdoor space where TPO felt that, despite being unable to address all issues raised by the complainant, the agent had taken the complaint seriously and taken action where possible, demonstrating good customer service.

A husband and wife who owned the Freehold of their property complained about the general condition of the village, which was managed in its entirety by the agent. The various issues included parking, green waste, flats residents keeping pets and hanging washing from the balconies, health and safety and finally the agent's intent to charge fees to the complainants for dealing with their enquiries.

The complainants’ requested resolution was for the agent to bring the village back into the condition it was when it was last entered into the ‘Village in Bloom’ competition.

The agent had taken some action to address the issues but pointed out that they could only go as far as their client instructed, and although they could not resolve all issues to the complainants’ satisfaction, they had taken them seriously and given explanations where possible.

Some of the actions taken by the agent were: instructing a parking management company which included an app facility for residents to report cars parked inappropriately; although their client has decided not to instruct them to create a gated area for green waste, they had written to residents to update them accordingly; they had reminded other residents to comply with the covenants in their lease or TP1; and they had shown they were currently are liaising with insurers and surveyors to have the health and safety matters addressed.

With respect to the fees applied for responding to the complainants, the Management Agreement in place allowed the agent to charge residents for dealing with queries ‘to the extent they consider reasonable’. The agent pointed to the sheer volume of correspondence exchanged with the complainants, as well as telephone calls, as evidence that they had spent some considerable time dealing with the complainants’ enquiries – which were repeatedly of the same nature. It was clear that on the majority of issues, the agent’s responses to these enquiries had not changed. The agent also demonstrated that their client did not wish them to increase charges to residents to better upkeep the village, nor take any legal action against residents breaching their covenants, such as hanging washing from their balconies.

The complaint was not supported. It was clear that the complainants’ expectations, especially with regard to policing other residents, far exceeded what the agent could reasonably achieve.

As the complainants were Freeholders, leasehold legislation did not apply. However, from the perspective of what was fair and reasonable, it was concluded that the agent had sufficiently responded to requests for information and the concerns raised. They could not go further than their client’s instructions allowed.

It was also accepted that the agent was entitled to apply a charge when dealing with the queries, which it could be argued had become vexatious. The more time the agent spent dealing with these repeated complaints, the less time they had to dedicate to the property running of the premises.

As such, whilst it was recognised that the complainants were frustrated that they observed the covenants and others did not, and that the condition of the village had deteriorated somewhat, the adjudicator was unable to meet their desired outcome.

The Property Ombudsman provides free, impartial and independent service, resolving disputes between Consumers and Property Agents since 1990.

 

Reviewed: October 2019