Defective Premises Act 1972

british landlords associationDefective Premises Act 1972

Work undertaken on dwellings: s1 of the Act provides that a person taking on work for or in connection with the provision of a dwelling owes a duty of care to see that the work which he takes on is done in a workman-like and or professional manner, with proper materials and so as regards that work, the dwelling shall be fit for habitation when completed. Duty to take reasonable care to avoid personal injury or damage to property: s4 provides:

(1) Where premises are let under a tenancy which puts on the landlord an obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises, the landlord owes to all persons who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises a duty 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 a relevant defect.

(2) The said duty is owed if the landlord knows (whether as the result of being notified by the tenant or otherwise) or if he ought in all the circumstances to have known of the relevant defect.

(3) ‘relevant defect’ means a defect in the state of the premises … arising from, or continuing because of, an act or omission by the landlord which constitutes or would if he had had notice of the defect have constituted a failure by him to carry out his obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises.

Common law negligence

1. We can address this issue quite shortly because, bluntly, the legal position is that commonlaw duties of care only rarely arise in this context.

2. Probably the best-known statement of principle is to be found in Lord Macnaghten’s judgment in Cavalier (above): “The law laid down by the Court of Common Pleas in the passage quoted by the Master of the Rolls from the judgment of Erle CJ in Robbins v Jones (1863) 15 CB (NS) 221 is beyond question: ‘A landlord who lets a house in a dangerous state is not liable to the tenant’s customers or guests for accidents happening during the term:
for, fraud apart, there is no law against letting a tumble-down house; and the tenant’s remedy is upon his contract, if any’”

3. More recently in Alker (above) it was said that “Where Cavalier v Pope applies, a duty of care does not in the absence of fraud arise upon the letting of a dilapidated premises even if the landlord actually knows or ought to have known that they are dilapidated.”

4. Still more recently Drysdale v Hedges [2012] EWHC 4131 (QB) confirms that this remains the rule.

5. Drysdale identified an exception to the rule where the landlord himself actually creates a danger on the premises. In that case the landlord had chosen to paint a step, which had the (unintended) effect of making it more slippery. On the facts the court found that this did not amount to a breach of duty, and so the claimant lost, but the important point for present purposes is that the landlord did owe a duty of care in that specific regard.

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