Landlord not liable for injury caused by property defect

A residential tenant will often seek to blame their landlord if they are injured by a defect at the property. But where the landlord is not made aware of a potentially dangerous defect that caused injury, the court has recently confirmed that the landlord will not be liable to the tenant.

The case involved a typical residential situation, where the owner of a long leasehold flat let it to a tenant under an assured shorthold tenancy. There was a pathway outside the flat leading to a communal bin store. The tenant was injured on uneven paving on the pathway, and brought a claim against the landlord.

The tenant argued that the landlord was liable under section 11, Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which provides that on a lease for a term of less than 7 years, the landlord is obliged to keep the structure of the property in repair, including the exterior. Where the lease forms only part of a building, as with the flat in the court case, the landlord’s repairing obligation applies to the parts of the building over which the landlord has an interest. The tenant argued that because the landlord had a right to use the entrance hall into the building, the pathway formed part of the entrance hall’s ‘exterior’. The landlord was therefore liable for the pathway’s disrepair.

The case eventually came to the Supreme Court (Edwards v Kumarasamy [2016] UKSC 403), which found that the landlord was not liable. The pathway was outside the scope of section 11, because as a matter of ordinary language, the pathway could not be regarded as part of the exterior of the entrance hall. Furthermore, the tenant had not given any notice to the landlord of the disrepair of the pathway, and so the landlord could not have been liable under section 11 anyway.

The case is a welcome clarification for landlords of when they might be liable to a tenant for injury caused by a defect in the property. However, it is not always the case that a landlord must be aware of a defect to have an obligation to repair it. If the defective structure lies outside the tenant’s demise, and the landlord retains possession, the landlord might be liable even without notice of the disrepair.