Mr Edwards tripped over on a path when he was taking his rubbish out. The path was between the front entrance of the block of flats where he lived and the communal bin store. He said the accident was caused by an uneven paving slab and brought a personal injury claim against his landlord.
Mr Edwards' landlord did not own the block of flats. He was a buy-to-let investor and only had a long lease interest. He did not have any notice of the disrepair before the accident.
S.11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 implies certain obligations into leases of residential properties. So Mr Edwards' landlord had an implied obligation "to keep in repair the structure and exterior of any part of the building in which [he] had an estate or interest".
The front entrance hall was clearly part of the building, but was the path part of the "structure or exterior" too?
The court said no.
The court found that although the landlord had an "estate or interest" in the front entrance hall (a leasehold easement), it was not possible, as a matter of ordinary language, to describe the path as "part of the exterior of the front hall".
The court also found where an area the landlord is obliged to maintain is not owned by the landlord or the tenant, the landlord’s liability is only triggered once he has notice of the disrepair. This is an important part of the decision, particularly for buy-to-let landlords who won't always know about disrepair unless their tenants tell them about it.
The court said there is no general rule that notice is always required before a landlord can be liable for implied repairing obligations under Section 11. So landlords who do know about disrepair, or could easily find out, should not just sit back and wait to receive notice from their tenant.
Whilst landlords will be relieved about the court's conclusions in this case, it is better to avoid any argument and include an express contractual obligation on the tenant to provide notice of any disrepair, in relation to any areas the landlord is obliged to maintain. That way, everyone knows where they stand... and if they fall they know who they can sue.
If you want to discuss any issues in connection with repairing obligations, please contact me at Jessica.Parry@blplaw.com.