Many tenants make alterations to their properties. Ordinarily these are authorised by their landlords, sometimes not. The recent High Court decision of Hannon v Hillingdon Homes Limited confirms that landlords need to be aware of the risks of failing to check their properties for any unauthorised alterations.
Debbie Morrison was the tenant of Hillingdon Homes. Without consulting them, she removed the banisters, spindles and a newel post from the staircase of her property.
Mr Hannon was a heating engineer. Instructed by the landlord, he visited the property to carry out maintenance work to a faulty boiler. He fell over the side of the staircase, and in the absence of a banister to prevent his fall, seriously fractured his ankle.
As a consequence, Mr Hannon lost his job and his income because the ankle injury proved to be life long.
He sued Hillingdon Homes, arguing that the house was “defective”. In particular, he made reference to section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 (“the Act”) and argued that it imposed a statutory duty on Hillingdon Homes to protect him from such defects.
The Court found that:
- Mr Hannon was not guilty of any lack of regard for his own safety. He had not descended the staircase in a “foolhardy” manner.
- The absence of banisters was a defect in the state of the property. The banister was an integral part of the staircase, which formed part of the structure of that property. Notwithstanding the fact that the tenant deliberately removed the banisters (in breach of the terms of her tenancy agreement) and that Hillingdon Homes was unaware of the works, the Court found that they were responsible for correcting that defect and liable to pay compensation.
The decision in Hannon is an important one and provides a reminder of the risks of not checking for unauthorised alterations on a regular basis.