Drysdale v Hedges [27.07.12]

A landlord did not owe a duty of care to her tenant who was injured by slipping on painted steps on her property; it was not unreasonable for a landlord to paint concrete steps with outdoor paint.

Comment

In this case, the Court found that the landlord owed no duty of care under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and the Defective Premises Act 1972 to her tenant. This is a decision that should reassure landlords who have to defend claims where accidents occur despite their best attempts to improve the property.

The case follows long established principles and it is worth remembering that as a general rule, a landlord’s duty to repair kicks in once they have received notice of the defect. That being said, it is important to remember that s.4 of the Defective Premises Act can apply if it was reasonable for the landlord to have known about the defect (such as where the defect is obvious) even without having been notified of the same.

Background

In October 2008, the Claimant slipped on the middle step leading up to the front door of the premises she rented from the Defendant. As a result of the slip she fell into the basement area of the house suffering serious back injuries. The Claimant alleged the steps were unduly slippery as a result of being painted and wet. She further alleged the Defendant had failed to provide a sufficiently high wall at the side of the steps and/or a handrail to prevent someone from falling down to the basement level.

The Claimant alleged these failures breached s.2 of the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 (1957 Act), s.4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 (1972 Act) and/or the tenancy agreement and common law.

Held

Mr Leighton Williams QC accepted that painting the steps had increased the risk of slipping on the steps, particularly when the steps were wet. However, the Court was satisfied the 1957 Act had no application - a landlord’s duty of care should normally be confined to the 1972 Act. Accepting the Defendant was under an obligation to maintain or repair premises "not in good repair", the Court considered that neither the stone steps nor the paint required repair. What was required was the removal of the paint and "it is stretching the meaning of the word 'repair' to apply it to the removal of the paint".

Accordingly, the presence of the paint did not breach the 1972 Act or the tenancy agreement either. In which case, a landlord owes a common law duty to take reasonable care not to create an unnecessary risk of injury. With regard to the unguarded drop, the Court was satisfied the Defendant was not required to make safe the wall besides the steps as the unguarded drop pre-existed the Defendant’s purchase of the property. With regard to the painting of the steps, the Court held the Defendant had applied a paint that was on the face of it suitable for the job in question and it was not unreasonable for her to have painted the steps.