Landlord’s Liability under Defective Premises Act

In an important decision, the High Court has ruled that the duties owed by landlords under the Defective Premises Act 1972 are not endless and that any liability in respect of accidental injury suffered by tenants is dependent on proof of fault.

The case concerned an accident in which a council tenant fell into a sink hole which suddenly opened up whilst she was hanging her laundry out to dry. The hole was a result of long-term water seepage from a fractured pipe some distance underground. The tenant claimed damages from the council under the Act, on the basis that it was strictly liable to compensate her for her injuries.

A judge found that the pipe was part of the drainage system of the premises and that the council was therefore under a duty to maintain and repair it. However, in rejecting the tenant’s claim, he found that the defect was entirely latent beneath the property’s lawn and that even the most careful inspection would not have detected it.

In dismissing the tenant’s appeal against that ruling, the Court found that, on a true interpretation of the Act, it was necessary to prove an element of fault in order to establish liability on the council’s part. Whether the council had a reasonable system of inspection, maintenance and repair in place was irrelevant as no such system would have disclosed the defect or prevented the accident.

(Lafferty v Newark & Sherwood District Council)