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Landlord’s duty of care

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Whether a ‘relevant defect’ existed that gave rise to landlord’s liability

The background

Dodd v Raebarn Estates Ltd & others [2017] was a case brought by the executrix of the estate of Paul Dodd. The freeholders owned a building in London, within which an internal staircase provided access to the flats. The staircase was built without a handrail, although the planning documents indicated that one was to be installed.

On leaving one of the flats, in 2007, Mr Dodd fell down the staircase and died as a result of the accident. The claim was brought by his estate against the freeholders, arguing that the staircase was dangerous and the lack of handrail a ‘relevant defect’ under the Defective Premises Act 1972 s.4(1).

The decision

Where a landlord is required to maintain or repair premises, it is obliged to take reasonable care to ensure that those using the building are safe from personal injury or damage to their property caused by ‘relevant defects’. For a claim against a landlord to be successful, ‘relevant defects’ must arise from the landlord’s failure to maintain or repair the premises.

Despite two appeals by Mr Dodd’s estate, the Court of Appeal maintained that the staircase could not be held to be defective as a result of it having no handrail. It was built without a handrail, and the staircase’s condition had not changed since the grant of the lease in a way that required the landlord to remedy it. As a result, the landlord had not failed in its obligation to repair.

Advice and action for landlords

This case is similar in its facts and outcome to Sternbaum v Dhesi. Landlords and managing agents must remain mindful of their obligations to repair and maintain a property, and where areas of a property fall into disrepair and present a risk to those using the building, action must be taken to remedy the defects.

However, both Dodd and Sternbaum are supportive in that claims cannot be successful where the condition of the property has not changed or deteriorated during the term of the lease. If the danger arises from original construction or design, there is no ‘relevant defect’. However, it is undoubtedly commercially sensible for landlords and agents to take an objective view of their properties and assess whether any potential hazards are presented.

The Court of Appeal maintained that, although it was probably dangerous, the staircase in the property could not be held to be defective as a result of it having no handrail.

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