A recent Property Ombudsman case demonstrated that when faced with complaints, property professionals should ensure that they handle issues fairly and reasonably, document their communications and do what they can to resolve problems effectively. Their efforts will be considered favourably in property disputes.
The complainant, a leaseholder and co-director of a residents management company, found themselves entangled in a dispute over persistent damp issues in the ground-floor flat of a new development.
The gradual buildup of damp which then developed into mold prompted the complainant to report the problem to the managing agent, who did not address the issue. It was found that due to staff turnover and being passed to multiple team members, the complaint was never resolved.
As the dispute reached the Property Ombudsman, the damp problem remained unresolved, leading to water pooling under the property, causing rot and mold. The managing agent argued that the complainant’s historic negligence, specifically in addressing a blocked gutter, was the root cause.
The managing agent tried to find a resolution by using service charge funds to undertake various actions, including modifying drainage, replacing roof felt, and installing insulation. However, when these measures failed, a qualified surveyor was enlisted to pinpoint the underlying problems and highlight any remedies.
A meeting was finally arranged between the managing agent, a developer representative, and the leaseholders. The meeting resulted in approval for improved insulation to the bay window, with surveyor costs waived as a goodwill gesture. It was during this phase that the complainant expanded the scope of the issue, revealing broader damp concerns throughout the entire property.
Subsequent investigations identified potential causes, from a lack of natural ventilation to issues related to the property’s location and construction. Despite resolving the bay window insulation, other factors such as underlying building defects and potential issues with cavity wall insulation were identified.
After a thorough review, the Property Ombudsman adjudicator concluded that the managing agent had communicated professionally and empathetically with the complainant. The records demonstrated persistent efforts by the agent to secure authorisation for necessary work, despite the complainant’s reluctance due to a historical issue.
Ultimately, the Ombudsman found that the managing agent’s actions were not the cause of the damp problem, and their service met the expected standards. The complaint was not upheld, highlighting the importance of effective communication and diligent efforts in resolving complex property disputes.
This case serves as a valuable reminder for property professionals to navigate such disputes with transparency, professionalism, and a commitment to resolving issues even in the face of challenges beyond their control.
This case shows that effective communication is paramount, requiring a professional and empathetic approach throughout disputes. Thorough documentation is essential, providing a clear record of actions taken and decisions made. A proactive stance toward problem resolution, collaboration with stakeholders, and flexibility in adapting strategies are vital.
Historical issues should be acknowledged and addressed, while a clear understanding of service charge approval processes is crucial. Utilising gestures of goodwill, conducting thorough property inspections, and maintaining continuous professionalism in adversity all contribute to effective property management.
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