Drysdale v Hedges High Court, QBD 27 July 2012

John Leighton Williams QC, sitting as a deputy Judge

Background

The landlord Ms Hedges let a property to Ms Drysdale which was a mid-terraced Victorian house on three floors. There were steps leading up to the front door which had been painted by Ms Hedges. There was a small wall to the left of the steps behind which was a second set of steps leading to the basement.

On 5 October 2009, the tenant Ms Drysdale and her fiancé slipped on the painted steps while carrying a large box, fell over the wall, down the second set of steps leading to the basement causing serious back injuries.

Ms Drysdale made a claim against the landlord claiming that the steps were unduly slippery as a result of being painted and poorly maintained. Also, that the wall was not sufficient to prevent someone falling. Proceedings were issued relying on Section 4 Defective Premises Act 1972, section 2 Occupiers Liability Act 1957 and breach of a common law duty of care.

The Law

An occupier of premises owes a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that a visitor is reasonably safe when using the premises for the purposes for which the visitor has been invited or permitted to be there (section 2 Occupiers Liability Act 1957).

A landlord who is contractually obliged to maintain or repair premises owes a duty to all persons to take reasonable care to ensure that they are reasonably safe from personal injury caused by his failure to comply with his repairing obligations (section 4 Defective Premises Act 1972).

At common law, a landlord who lets premises in a dangerous condition owes neither a duty to remedy the defect nor a duty of care to any third party who might be injured [Cavalier v Pope [1906] A.C. 428.]

Held

The claim was dismissed. The duty under the Occupiers liability Act 1957 did not arise because Ms Hedges was not the occupier of the steps in October 2008 as they had been demised to Ms Drysdale under the tenancy.

There was no breach of the duty under section 4 Defective Premises Act. The wall was not out of repair and it was the same height as it had always been. Also, the steps were not out of repair and there was no duty on the landlord to install a handrail.

The claim at common law also failed. Cavalier v Pope did not apply where the landlord unnecessarily created a dangerous situation but that was not the case here and not what Ms Hedges had done. Adding a layer of paint did not damage the stone beneath even though the rain increased the risk of slipping. The paint bought by the landlord was suitable for applying to concrete and outdoor use. There was a reference to ‘semi-gloss’ on the tin and that might have alerted a professional to the fact that the paint might not be suitable for steps, but not the ‘man on the street’. It was not unreasonable for the landlord to have painted the steps leading to the property and a breach of duty was not established.

Comment

This case follows long established principles and another similar case concerning whether safety glass was required is worthy of reading.

It’s also worth remembering that as a rule of thumb, a landlord has no duty to repair until they have received notice of the defect. It is accepted though that section 4 Defective Premises Act can apply if it was reasonable for the landlord to know even without being notified.

Finally, although there is no requirement to put premises in better repair than what was let, if a local authority were to inspect and serve notice (or order) under the housing health and safety rating system under Part 1 Housing Act 2004 then, the works would in most cases be required even though that might be an improvement rather than repair.

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