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Freefall: Landlords and the Defective Premises Act 1972

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Ms Rogerson (“Ms R”) lived in a Council property owned by Bolsover District Council. Ms R was the tenant and Bolsover Council the landlord.

In September 2013, Ms R was mowing her front garden when she stepped backwards onto a manhole cover. The cover gave way and she fell into the void beneath, seriously injuring herself. The manhole cover itself and the area below was the property of Severn Trent.

Bolsover Council had a duty to maintain the structure and exterior of the property. The question was, did the landlord also have a duty of care under the Defective Premises Act 1972 (“the Act”)? Was the landlord liable for the injury caused as a result of the defective inspection cover? After all, the cover was owned by Severn Trent.

The Act says that a landlord owes a duty of care to anyone who might be affected by defects in the state of premises let by the landlord.

In the Court’s view, the manhole cover was an ‘obvious risk’, given that it was located in the garden of domestic premises. It was irrelevant that it was actually the property of Severn Trent as the cover, in the Court’s opinion, fell within the definition of ‘structure and exterior’ of the property. Bolsover Council had undertaken an inspection of the property in May 2013 but there was insufficient evidence to show that the covers had been inspected or any risk identified.

The Act does not actually impose a duty on landlords to inspect a tenanted property. However, a landlord is required to take such care as is reasonable to ensure occupiers are reasonably safe. The Judge found that the defect in this case would have been discovered had an inspector applied some lateral pressure on the cover. Effectively, it was a defect which the landlord could have discovered and should have known about had it exercised reasonable care.

The landlord was therefore held liable for the personal injury, loss and damage claimed by Ms R.

This case seems to widen the scope for claims under the Act and landlords should take note. Whilst this case confirms that landlords are not technically under a duty to implement a system of regular inspection, it is certainly advisable. This is especially so when there is a “clear and obvious danger” or the occupants may be vulnerable. The key consideration is: what would a competent landlord exercising reasonable care do?

In terms of inspections generally, a basic visual check may not always be enough to discharge the duty of care. An inspection should be full and thorough. This will depend on how apparent or foreseeable a defect may be, the nature of the risk, safety regulations, and what work might be involved. To ensure an inspection is truly thorough, detailed notes should be taken and a risk assessment considered. Issues should be remedied, monitored and referred, where necessary.

The information contained on this page has been prepared for the purpose of this blog/article only. The content should not be regarded at any time as a substitute for taking legal advice.