Are private landlords now more liable to claims for defects arising outside their properties?

The Court of Appeal, in the recent decision of Edwards v Kumarasamy [2015], intepreted section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 in such a way as to broaden the repairing obligations of landlords. Bedford landlord and tenant specialist solicitor Hannah Young explains the implications.

In that case, Mr Edwards (Mr Kumarsamy’s tenant under a standard assured shorthold tenancy) tripped on an uneven paving slab between the front door of the block of flats and the communal bin area. Since Mr Kumarasamy merely owned the leasehold of flat 10, a second floor flat, he claimed that he had no obligation to repair the path between the block and the bin area, since he did not own it.

The first ruling 

However, section 11 provides that a landlord must ‘keep in repair, the structure and exterior of the dwelling house’ and that this obligation extends to any part of the building in which the landlord has an ‘estate or interest’. The Judge at first instance ruled that the pathway formed part of the structure and exterior and that the landlord’s easement over the pathway was enough to constitute an ‘interest’. That meant he had an obligation to keep it in repair.

More twists and turns 

The appeal judge reversed the decision, although largely on the basis that, in order for the landlord to be bound by his obligation in section 11, he had to have been given notice of the defect. Applying its own 1973 decision (O’Brien v Robinson), the Court of Appeal said that the obligation of the tenant to notify the landlord of defects applies only to those within the dwelling house, i.e. only those which the tenant would be the first (and possibly the only) person to have knowledge of that defect.

On that basis, the Court of Appeal overruled the appeal judge’s decision and held that Mr Edwards’ claim for personal injury could stand against Mr Kumarasamy.

What does this decision mean for landlords?

Many landlords, particularly private landlords of flats, would not suppose they would be liable for defects arising outside of the block of flats, and would suggest that management companies (to which often large fees are paid) should instead be liable. However, this decision of the Court of Appeal means landlords should be wary of that supposition.

The court did not consider whether Mr Kumarasmay might have a claim against the management company, potentially for breach of contract if they failed to carry out contracted inspections and repairs of the pathways, which is certainly a possibility. Another is that appropriate ‘block insurance’ would cover such a claim.

Landlords may want to check that they are covered by their insurance 

In a practical sense, landlords might wish to contact their own insurer to ensure that any such claim would fall within the remit of the public liability cover provided by own their home or landlord insurance policy.

Need advice?

Contact Bedford solicitor Hannah Young for more information or call 01234 270600.

Tagged under: