Raebarn were the landlords of a mixed use property in London. Mr Dodd was on honeymoon in London and was visiting one of the flats on the first floor on Christmas Day in 2007. He lost his footing on a flight of stairs while leaving the flat and suffered catastrophic injuries from which he never recovered.
Mrs Dodd brought a number of claims. The sole question before the Court of Appeal was whether Raebarn, as freeholders of the building, were liable for Mr Dodd’s injuries under section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972.
What is the effect of section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972?
Under section 4, a landlord owes a duty of care to anyone, including a tenant, who might be affected by a “relevant defect” in the state of premises let by a landlord.
A duty of care arises if a tenancy imposes an obligation on a landlord to maintain or repair the premises and if a tenancy gives a landlord the right to enter the premises to carry out maintenance or repair to the premises.
The Claimant’s case
Mrs Dodd argued that the lack of handrail on the staircase was a relevant defect and that it was a failure by the landlord to carry out its obligation to the tenant for the maintenance and repair of the premises.
The Court did not agree. It held that the duty to repair under section 4 is not the same as a duty to make safe. The obligation to repair does not arise unless the objects in respect of which it is imposed are out of repair. A duty under section 4 will arise where is defect is due to an act or omission by the landlord which is a failure by him to carry out his duties to maintain or repair the premises.
Further, the fact that a part of a building is replaced by an inferior product does not mean that for this reason alone the building is out of repair, even though in a general sense it may be said to be in a “worse” state.
This is a positive decision for landlords as the court has supported a strict interpretation of the duty landlords owe to tenants under section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972.
A landlord’s duty to maintain and repair is not equivalent to a duty to make safe. This is a logical conclusion as, if section 4 was construed more widely, this would impose a much more substantial burden on landlords, particularly in relation to matters that are under the control of the tenant.