Where do a landlord’s liabilities end? In this month’s column, Alex Byard explains why you don’t need to worry about things that go bump in the night…
A recent case, entitled Sternbaum v Dhesi, discussed this exact topic after a tenant slipped and fell as she walked up a staircase.
The stairs in question were steep, but they were without a handrail prior to the tenancy agreement being signed. There were, however, indications that a bannister might have been removed at some stage in the property’s history.
In most tenancies, the landlord is obliged to keep the structure and exterior of a rented property in good repair. The Defective Premises Act of 1972 also imposes a duty of care to anyone who might be affected by the poor state of your accommodation.
In the Sternbaum v Dhesi case, the court found in the landlord’s favour, concluding a lack of handrail or bannister did not constitute disrepair.
Photographs of the staircase, which was similar to those in hundreds of old buildings, were shown. The court commented the situation could be regarded as a hazard, but there was nothing about its appearance that could justify the description of disrepair. Therefore, to require a landlord to fit a handrail would amount to an obligation to improve the premises or make them safe.
As a second point, the court considered whether the staircase and missing bannister should be classed as part of the premise’s structure.
No decision was reached on this issue, as it was suggested it would be difficult to argue the bannister was part of the staircase construction. Ultimately, the tenancy agreement was used to determine what was and was not included in the premises.
This matter highlights how easy it is to fall foul of the rules imposed on a landlord. If you are unclear about your obligations, always seek legal advice.
Alex Byard is a specialist in property litigation at Sheffield’s Taylor&Emmet LLP. For more information, telephone (0114) 218 4000, visit www.tayloremmet.co.uk and www.landlorddisputes.co.uk or follow the firm on Twitter @te_propertylaw.