All landlords are aware that if their tenanted properties fall into disrepair, they are liable for any injuries their tenants sustain due to the disrepair of a private rented property. This will also apply to areas within the curtilage of the property – that is, the garden or yard area. Most would feel this defined the limit of their responsibilities. But how many landlords know that they should also be looking for disrepair in any areas which provide access to the property? Not many would be my guess. However, a ruling in Edwards v Kumarasamy (2015) has changed that.
The case involved a tenant who lived in a second floor flat. Rubbish disposal was via communal bins, which were located in the car park. Access to the bins was by use of a path leading from the front door.
Unfortunately, there was an uneven paving stone on this path which caused him to trip and this resulted in a damaged knee. On the face of it, the path may seem to constitute more of a highways issue than a landlord responsibility, but the Court ruled otherwise. The Court awarded the tenant £3,750 in damages.
Whether landlords feel this was a fair judgement is irrelevant – this clearly shows that landlords need to be as aware of potential hazards in the areas leading to and surrounding their property as in the property itself.
An added weight for the landlord, in that whilst repairs in the property are the responsibility of the tenant to report (and it is often expressed in the tenancy agreement that the landlord cannot be held liable for unreported repairs), the tenant cannot be expected to report repairs to the exterior – he is unlikely to think the landlord is responsible (despite what a Court may rule) and the disrepair could have occurred without the tenant being aware of the risk.
Frustrating as this is, Landlords must make careful inspection of the exterior in their regular property visits. Most landlords will inspect the exterior, but may confine their viewing to areas above head height – are the gutters and drains still fixed and showing no signs of blockages? Does the roof seem ok, with no missing tiles?
Now, they will have to inspect paths, walkways, areas around the doors, whether they believe they need to or not. If they find anything, do whatever is possible to alleviate the risk, which may mean contacting the appropriate authority and advising the tenant of what you have seen and advising them action has been taken to remedy the situation.
There seem to be ever more and more responsibilities being levied on private sector landlords; not every court would have ruled against the landlord as happened in this case, but it may now have set a precedent which means it could happen again. This is a litigation obsessed society, which does not allow for accidents or even acts of God, so inspect areas imagining the worst scenario and try to guard against it, or potentially face large claims in court.
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