Health & Safety – FirstPort reveal what landlord’s need to know

FirstPort reveal that the Supreme Court’s decision in the recent case of Edwards v Kumarasamy [2016] UKSC 40 has shone a welcome spotlight on the importance of health and safety within the property industry. What started in July 2010 when Mr Edwards tripped on an uneven paving slab between the front door of his block of flats and the communal bin area, ended just over six years later with a judgment handed down by the Supreme Court, following a series of appeals.
In this case, Mr Edwards made a claim against his landlord under section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 which implies on a landlord a legal obligation to keep the structure and exterior of a building in repair in tenancies under 7 years. The Judge ruled that the pathway on which Mr Edwards tripped formed part of the structure and exterior and this meant he had an obligation to keep it in repair, and so an award of £3,750 was made. 

The series of appeals which followed serves well to highlight how complicated this area of law can be and how very seriously landlords and managing agents must take their responsibilities. The Court of Appeal reversed the decision based on the fact that the landlord should have been given notice of the defect but was subsequently overruled and Mr Edwards’ claim for personal injury was upheld. The final decision was then made by the Supreme Court which decided that the path should not be deemed part of the exterior to the building and notice of the defect should have been given by the tenant.
Regardless of the final ruling however, this particular case should act as a wakeup call for landlords in terms of their repairing obligations to their tenants. Whilst this case focussed on section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, there are a number of other different areas a landlord should consider when thinking about the health and safety of their tenants. 
The first place to start is the lease itself. This will almost certainly contain express terms as to the standards expected of landlords and should set out exactly what is required of a landlord. 
Having considered the express terms of the relationship consideration should be given to what is implied by statute.
For leases of less than seven years section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 implies that a landlord must keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling house, together with those installations relating to the supply of water, gas, electricity and for sanitation. Importantly the case of Edwards has confirmed that a landlord will only be liable for a breach of s11 if it fails to remedy a defect of which it has been notified. 
More generally, prudent landlords would be well served to consider the provisions of the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957. This sets out duties owed to "visitors". In these circumstances those with control of property must take such care, as is reasonable in all the circumstances, to ensure that the visitor will be reasonably safe whilst at the premises. The Defective Premises Act 1972 also contains provisions which may be relevant as it provides that in certain circumstances landlords will be liable for defects in the state of the premises. Finally, the Occupiers Liability Act 1984 may apply to people who are on your land without permission. Here, controversially, there is a duty (subject to a number of hurdles being met) to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to see that the trespasser does not suffer an injury as a result of danger on the premises. 
The obligations on landlords to ensure their properties are safe and that tenants and visitors avoid injury are high. Well advised, responsible landlords and managing agents should have in place strong systems to ensure constant monitoring of site standards and safety; only then can you ensure your residents have the safety in place that they deserve. 
Jonathan Warren
FirstPort Lead Legal Consultant