Residential landlord maintenance responsibilities
Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy it is time to review the responsibilities of the residential landlord. Insurance of Residential Property.
If you have work carried out on your property and a fire results, your standard home insurance policy will not cover you.
Common Law Liability
If you as a landlord or someone who you have employed fail to exercise reasonable care in the work carried out on a building the landlord could be found to be liable to the occupiers of the building for injury or damage resulting from their negligence.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea will be concerned with this in relation to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
Negligence claims since Gabriel v Little 2017 2 WLR proceed on the basis of whether the defendant was under a duty to prevent loss an emphasis shift putting the onus on landlords that it was not.
Liability for the Common Parts
If a landlord retains control of parts of the building, such as staircases, corridors, roofs, guttering etc., then the landlord is under a duty of care to keep those parts of the building in repair so they do not cause injury to the tenant or damage the tenant’s property. Cockburn v. Smith 1924: 2KB. 119, is authority for the same duty to extent to any lawful visitor to the property.
Landlords can be found liable for nuisance to a tenant if it retains part of the building and the disrepair of that part causes interference with the tenant’s enjoyment of the let part. Tennant Radiant Heat v. Warrington Development Corp, (1988) 11E.G.71. There are exceptions to this general rule:
Occupiers Liability Act 1957: Section 2 provides that an occupier of property owes the same duty, “the common duty of care” to all his visitors.
Defective Premises Act 1972: Section 1 imposes a duty on those who undertake work for or in connection with the provision of the dwelling to:
Do the work in a professional and workmanlike manner
Use proper materials and
Ensure the work means the building will be fit for habitation when completed.
This applies to builders, architects, engineers, property developers and local authorities. This is stricter than common law as it is owed both to the person to whom the building was provided and also to anyone subsequently acquiring a legal or equitable interest in the property such as a subsequent purchaser or tenant.
Pursuant to Section. 2 of the Act, Section 1 will not apply to dwellings which are covered by an “approved scheme” of purchaser protection.
Section 1 is subject to six year limitation period within which to bring a claim.
Section 3 broadens the duty of those who would be affected by the subsequent disposal of the property.
Section 4 of the Act (from a Grenfell perspective) is the most important provision. It provides that where there is an obligation from the landlord to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the property, the landlord owes a duty to all persons who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the property. This is a duty to take such care as is reasonable in the circumstances to ensure that they are safe from personal injury or damage to their property caused by the defects.
Further, by Section 4(4) – if the landlord has a right, express or implied, to enter the property to carry out any decoration, maintenance or repair, he is treated as if he were under a repairing obligation.
Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 Section 11
Section 11 of the 1985 Act applies in general to any lease or tenancy of a dwelling-house for a term of less than seven years and includes periodic tenancies. A landlord cannot contract out of the implied obligations set out in Section 11 except with the consent of the tenant and the approval of the court.
The landlord’s obligations are to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the property (including drains, gutters and external pipes), to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the property for the supply of water, gas, electricity and sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths, etc.) and to keep in repair and proper working order the installations for space heating and heating water. The landlord is obligated to put the property into repair if it is out of repair at the start of the tenancy.
Windows are usually regarded as being part of the exterior (Ball v. Plummer  2 T.L.R. 877). Similarly, the steps and flagstones which are necessary to access the property can also be part of the exterior. In Edwards v. Kumarasamy  A.C. 1334; 2015] [L. & T.R. 18, the Supreme Court found that a landlord was not obliged to repair a path outside the front entrance for a block of flats as it was not part of the “structure or exterior” to the relevant parts of the building. Also, the landlord was not liable for disrepair in relation to areas he was responsible for maintaining but did not own.
Further Statutory Obligations
Landlords should be concerned about the presence of combustible cladding on their buildings. Any building that has cladding panels containing Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) or similar may not be compliant with the requirements of the current Building Regulations Guidance and, more importantly, may be putting people in danger.
Landlords must be proactive in assessing the fire safety of their buildings. They must check the Fire Safety Accreditation and Building Regulations compliance of any panelling on the building and contact their surveyors or architects for advice. Testing for ACM must be a priority; samples of such materials can be provided for verification to independent testing facilities such as the Building Research Establishment. Ultimately, if the materials are non-compliant, it will be necessary for the panels to be removed.
In addition, full fire safety checks must be implemented including ensuring all entrance doors and doors that open on to escape corridors and stairways are fire resistant and self-closing.
Landlords must also check to ensure that there are no obvious routes for fire or smoke to spread, such as hallways and pipes and cables which run through walls.
Smoke control systems, including associated fire detecting systems must also be tested to make sure they are operating correctly. Landlords must take advice on installing a sprinkler system if they do not already have one.
The Government is now looking into the adequacy of the Building Regulations and whether they will be reviewed and updated. Until then landlords must err on the side of caution and render their investment as fireproof as possible.
In addition, a landlord must:
provide a smoke alarm on each storey and a carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a solid fuel appliance (for example, a coal or wood burning stove);
check that tenants have access to escape routes at all times;
make sure that the furniture and furnishings supplied are fire safe;
provide fire alarms and extinguishers if the property is a large house in multiple occupation.
A landlord must make sure gas equipment supplied is safely installed and maintained by a Gas Safe registered engineer; have a registered engineer do an annual gas safety check on each appliance and flue and give a copy of the gas safety check record to the tenant before he moves in or within 28 days of the check.
A landlord must make sure that the electrical system is safe, for example, sockets and light fittings. Also, that all appliances supplied are safe, for example, cookers, fridges and kettles.
Check the terms of your property insurance before you have work carried out as you may not be covered for loss caused by contractors working on your property.
A residential landlord’s obligations to tenants include liability at common law for the shared parts of the building and for nuisance. Case law shifts the onus of defending a negligence claim on to the landlord to show it was not under any duty. Under statute, a landlord has obligations if they retain control of parts of the building. They are also liable for a poorly constructed and poorly maintained building as well as being liable for keeping in repair the structure, exterior and installations in the property. Landlords also have obligations regarding fire safety, gas safety and electrical safety and need to keep up to date on changes in building regulations and be mindful of these at all times.
If you would like to learn more please call Cox Minhas & Co on 01604 973977.