When is it a landlord's duty to repair defects?

A recent legal case raises the question of whether a landlord’s duty to repair equates to a duty to make safe.

In Dodd v Raebarn Estates Ltd and others, a visitor later died from head injuries after having fallen down a staircase that did not comply with building regulations. Mr Dodd’s wife alleged that the freehold owner of the building was liable for her late husband’s fall.

What does the law say?

Under the Defective Premises Act 1972, landlords have a duty of care to anyone who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises. The act therefore imposes a duty to repair or maintain the property. However, before an obligation to repair arises, the property must be in disrepair.

The court ruled that despite the staircase being steep with no handrail, it was not in disrepair and therefore the freeholders were not liable.

Does this also apply to commercial lease premises?

Many commercial leases include covenants relating to compliance with the Defective Premises Act 1972.

This case serves as a useful reminder that a landlord can be found liable for failure to repair and maintain even if they have not had notice of the defect.

If you rent commercial premises, you can limit your liability by following these steps:

• Carry out regular inspections and serve a notice on your tenant if there is disrepair.

• If the tenant fails to comply with a notice of disrepair, you can still carry out the works and charge the amount incurred to the tenant.

• Always check that works carried out by your tenant are compliant with the plans and specifications and have been signed off by the relevant authorities.

David Marsden is a partner in the commercial property team at Watford-based law firm VWV