Thanks to our friends at Nearly Legal we have been alerted to the recent case of Gillian Drysdale v Joanne Hedges (2012) QBD 27/07/2012. A tenant slipped off some steep steps while moving her belongings in at the beginning of the tenancy and injured her back. The steps were painted with gloss paint which became slippery while wet, and there was a dangerous drop unprotected by railings. The tenant claimed against the landlord under section 2 of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 (OLA), section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 (DPA), as well as under his common law duties. You can read a full summary here.
In short it was decided:
1. Section 2 OLA did not apply at all – a landlord’s duty is defined in section 4 of the DPA and it is this Act which applies.
2. Section 4 DPA provides that where there is an express or implied right of access for the Landlord to carry out repairs, there is a general duty of care to occupiers (and their possessions) to take reasonable care to ensure safety from damage or injury as a result of any defect which the landlord is liable to repair, and which they are – or should be- aware of. (Note that this duty applies without actual notification if the landlord should reasonably have been aware). The court confirmed that these provisions did not translate into a duty to make safe.
3. Common law duty of care: the court confirmed the principle that there was no requirement to make safe a property let in a dangerous condition. ( In this particular case there was no common law requirement to make the drop safe, but there was a duty of care not to create an unnecessary risk of injury).
The claim was dismissed.
So what does this mean for Landlords? It does not mean that they can leave their tenanted properties in a dangerous condition. It means that the court confirmed the position with regard to the claimant’s claim and the landlord’s liability under the DPA, OLA and his common law duty of care. There are however safety standards set out in other legislation and regulations.
Landlords will be aware of the provisions of the Housing Act 2004. The Housing Health and Safety Rating System ( HHSRS) introduced by part one of the Act imposes a set of safety obligations on Landlords, including obligations in relation to slips, trips and falls. Under the HHSRS a local authority, by way of an environmental health officer, can inspect a property for hazards and require that remedial action be taken to diminish a risk. (NB, HHSRS applies to all residential properties, not just rental properties).
Houses in Multiple Occupation ( HMOs) are subject to enhanced safety obligations . See our blog here
Further all landlords will be aware of the Gas safety ( installation and use) Regulations 1998 which we have blogged on here.
So although in this particular case the tenant was unable to claim against the landlord under the heads of claim pleaded, there are nevertheless requirements on landlords to keep their properties safe. We often get queries on our Helpline as to safety in rental properties. Landlords and agents should bear in mind not only their repairing obligations but also the requirements of HHSRS and the raft of other legislation designed to keep occupiers safe.