The case of the dodgy banister
It is common for tenants to make alterations to their properties. Generally these are approved by the landlord but not always.
A recent High Court decision is a reminder to landlords of the importance of checking their properties for any unauthorised alterations.
In the case, Hannon v Hillingdon Homes Limited, Ms Morrison was one of Hillingdon’s tenants. Some twenty years earlier, without consulting her landlord, she had removed all the banister rails and posts from the staircase in the property.
Mr Hannon was a heating engineer who visited the house on behalf of the landlord to mend the boiler. He fell over the side of the staircase, causing permanent damage to his ankle. As a result, the 46-year old lost his job and his income and he sued Hillingdon Homes, arguing that the house was defective. He referred in particular to the Defective Premises Act which, he said, imposed a statutory duty on the landlord to protect him from such defects.
The court agreed that the absence of banisters was a defect: a banister is an integral part of a staircase, which forms part of the structure of a property. In removing the banisters, Ms Morrison was in breach of the terms of her tenancy agreement. Although the landlord was unaware of what she had done, they were responsible for correcting the defect and were found liable to compensate Mr Hannon.
If you are in charge of premises, you need to carry out assessments of the potential dangers to individuals in your properties and make repairs. Even if the premises have been in the same state for a long time and there have been no mishaps, that does not let you off the hook for any accident that may happen in the future.
As always, if you need commercial and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.