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13th November 2012

A Landlord's liability for Defective Premises

In the recent case of Drysdale v Hedges, the High Court held that a Landlord was not liable to a tenant who suffered serious injuries after slipping on the steps of the demised premises, which has been recently painted by the Landlord, and falling over a low wall which did not have a guardrail.

The Court considered the Landlord’s statutory duties under both the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 and the Defective Premises Act 1972 as well as the common law duty of care. In considering a landlord’s statutory liability the Court noted that, notwithstanding the general application of section 2 of the 1957 Act which defines an occupier’s liability to visitors on his premises, Parliament had provided specifically for a landlord’s liability under section 4 of the 1957 Act when it was originally enacted. Section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 had later repealed this provision in the 1957 Act and the Court held that Parliament had intended a landlord’s liability in tort to be restricted to the definition under section 4 of the 1972 Act.

Section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 Act obliges Landlords to take reasonable care to ensure that tenants are reasonably safe from injury to them or their property caused by a defect in the state of the demised premises. This will only apply if there is an obligation in the Lease on the Landlord to repair and maintain the premises. In this case, neither the wall nor the steps were in disrepair and so there was no defect under the 1972 Act. At common law, it was accepted that the lack of a guardrail was dangerous but the tenant had rented the premises without a rail and so the Landlord was under no duty to make the premises safe by installing one. There was also no breach of duty in respect of the steps which had been painted with the appropriate paint for outside use.

This case clarifies the position for Landlords and makes it clear that their only statutory liability to a tenant will be under the Defective Premises Act 1972. If the Act does not apply a Landlord will still owe a common law duty to take reasonable care not to create an unnecessary risk of injury. For more information please contact Kate Harris on 01223 461155 or kateharris@hewitsons.com.

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