Claims Against Private Landlords

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Claims Against Private Landlords

Published 8 December 2020

Landlords of private rented accommodation should also be alive to the increased risk of accidents occurring during this season. Whilst landlords are likely to be able to argue that in relation to premises demised, they are not the occupier of the property for the purposes of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957, they could face a claim in negligence from an injured visitor to a property owned by them, if they retained a responsibility for the external access and failed to take reasonable steps to keep this safe, or from their tenant/the occupiers of the property.

Claims against private landlords can arise in a number of ways, including, but not limited to:

  1. A tenant or visitor alleging an injury caused by a lack of maintenance, including clearing pathways of hazards (if that was their responsibility);
  2. A tenant or visitor alleging an injury caused through a defect which had been reported to the landlord but not repaired; and
  3. Somebody else, not a tenant, who resides in the property being injured in one of the above ways.

Some examples of situations which could give rise to accidents could be a build-up of algae, moss or similar substance on a driveway or pathway, causing a slipping accident, a trip on a defective pathway or some other slip or fall due to a lack of available lighting.

Key considerations in such cases are likely to involve the tenancy agreement, any agency agreement, the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, the Defective Premises Act 1972 and Common Law negligence.

Claims by the tenant alleging breach of contract on the part of the Landlord will start with a review of the tenancy agreement to consider whether there is an express term that is relevant or whether given the nature of the agreement between the landlord and the tenant, that there is an implied term in that agreement.

If there is no relevant express term in the contract, then the parties need to consider Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 which imposes repairing obligations onto landlords by implying contractual terms into short leases requiring the landlord to keep in good repair the structure and exterior of the property.

Consideration will need to be given in each case to the express or implied terms of the tenancy agreement to understand whether the issue complained of / particular defect was one which  remained the responsibility of the landlord.  For example, if the tenancy agreement imposed an obligation on the landlord to keep communal pathways clear, there may be a liability in the event of an accident.  Alternatively, if the tenancy agreement imposes a clear obligation on a tenant to undertake the upkeep of pathways, a claim arising from a slip or trip on that pathway may fail against the landlord. 

Even if there is a defect arising within the demised premises, a landlord is unlikely to be found to have breached a contractual repairing obligation until they have had notice whether actual or constructive of the defect and been given a reasonable opportunity to repair it. 

We often see claims by tenants citing that the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 would apply and that the landlord has breached the duty of care set out therein.  This is somewhat misguided.  By demising the premises to a tenant, the landlord is likely to be treated as having given up any control they had of the premises which of course is an essential ingredient as to the status of an occupier.  In such circumstances, a tenant, rather than the landlord, is more likely to be the occupier of the premises.  This may not apply in all cases however as, if only part of the premises is demised it may well be the case that the landlord still has control over the area where an accident occurred and may still be deemed the occupier for the purposes of the 1957 Act. 

The Defective Premises Act 1972 however does provide some legislation that may support a claim.  The Defective Premises Act imposed a number of statutory duties on landlords to provide for the safety of persons visiting or residing at premises.  Under the Act, where premises are let under a tenancy agreement it puts the landlord under an obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises.  The landlord owes a duty to all persons that might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises and the duty is to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to see that they are reasonably safe from personal injury or from damage to their property caused by the relevant defect.

Typically, tenants will need to show that they have complained or reported any issues to a landlord to seek that they deal with a hazard (if it remains the landlords responsibility) such as removing a built up of moss or algae.  If a tenant does not do this and someone suffers an injury, it is unlikely that a Court will find the landlord to be responsible.

DAC Beachcroft have expert lawyers who will be able to advise on the prospects of successfully defending claims of this nature.  If you would like to discuss any individual cases, please do not hesitate to contact our Casualty Injury team, or one of the writers below.

Authors

Cassandra Mitchell

Cassandra Mitchell

Bristol

+44 (0)117 918 2108

Ellie Finch

Ellie Finch

Bristol

+44 (0)11 918 2719

William Swift

William Swift

Manchester

+44 (0) 161 934 3109

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