Landlord Exonerated in Repair Covenant Test Case

A landlord who takes on responsibility for repairing and maintaining premises is not obliged to improve them or even to ensure that they are safe. The Court of Appeal so ruled in a guideline case which arose in the context of a slipping accident on a flight of stairs which was not fitted with a handrail.

Victorian commercial premises had been let to a company in which the woman who fell had an interest. The lease was subject to a covenant by which the landlord promised to maintain and repair the building’s structure. The woman unsuccessfully sued the landlord under the Defective Premises Act 1972 after falling down the narrow staircase and suffering a nasty injury.

In dismissing her appeal, the Court noted that the staircase was of a type that one might find in hundreds of old buildings across the country. It did not have a handrail when the lease was entered into, and to oblige the landlord to fit one would be to place him under a duty to improve the premises and make them safe. The Court accepted that, by modern standards, the staircase was both defective and hazardous. However, it could not be said to have been in a state of disrepair.