Landlords’ duty clarified
When landlords have an express or implied right to enter premises to carry out repairs or maintenance, they have a statutory duty (The Defective Premises Act 1972) to take care that a lack of repairs/maintenance does not cause personal injury or damage to property.
If such a defect is the tenant’s fault, the landlord will not be liable to the tenant though he will be liable to others eg visitors to the premises.
For some time there has been concern that this duty could extend to latent defects and a recent case has clarified the position. It involved a tenant who suffered serious injuries when her arm went through a ribbed glass panel in the front door of her flat.
It was made of annealed glass, a material that was considered acceptable when the property was built but that has been recognised as a hazard since 1963. The landlord had never replaced the glass on the basis that it was neither damaged nor in disrepair.
The tenant argued that the landlord was liable because he knew of the hazard and should have fitted safety glass. Luckily for all landlords, the appeal court rejected this argument. They confirmed that the landlord’s statutory duty is to repair and maintain the property; it is not a duty to make safe.
The vast majority of leases do contain rights of entry for the landlord to carry out repairs (eg if the tenant fails to comply with his repairing obligations). Landlords should not be complacent about the state and condition of their properties even if the tenant is fully responsible for repair. Their statutory duties are owed to all third parties, not just to their tenants. There is no substitute for regular inspections to make sure properties are kept in good repair.
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