Under UK law, landlords owe a duty of care to their tenants. Landlords must take reasonable steps to ensure the property they let out is fit for habitation and safe to use.
If a landlord breaches their duty, and a tenant is injured, the landlord may be liable for the injury. The landlord may be required to pay compensation, which could amount to £10,000s or even £100,000s in cases of serious injury.
How this principle applies in practice, however, will depend on the situation.
What does the law say?
Employers owe a strict liability duty to employees. This means that an employer is generally liable for an injury at work, regardless of the circumstances of the accident. Landlords are not exposed to the same strict liability.
The Defective Premises Act 1972 states that landlords must make reasonable efforts to ensure tenants are protected from harm by property defects. This means that, unlike employers, landlords are not automatically liable if a tenant is injured in the property. This is the case even if the injury was caused by a property defect.
For a landlord to be liable for a tenant’s illness or injury, the following must apply:
- The landlord must have been aware of the defect, or ought to have been aware
- The landlord must have failed to take reasonable steps to protect the tenant from the risk of injury
For example, if a landlord carries out a yearly inspection, finds a hazard, but fails to act in a reasonable timeframe and their tenant is subsequently injured, it is very likely that they are liable.
Likewise, if a landlord does not carry out regular inspections, and wear and tear over several years creates a hazard that then injures a tenant, the landlord could be liable.
However, if a defect arises between regular inspections, and the landlord is not informed of the defect before an injury occurs, the landlord is less likely to be legally accountable.
What counts as a reasonable timeframe between identifying a hazard and fixing it will depend on the circumstances.
If the risk is low, or a fix takes some time to arrange, a delay may be considered reasonable. However, if there is an obviously high risk of injury, the landlord must act quickly.
The landlord must take whatever steps it reasonably can to protect tenants from even minor harm. If a defect can be fixed quickly and easily, it should be, even if the risk of harm is low.
The Homes Act 2018
This Act came into force in March 2019. Under the Homes Act, landlords must take reasonable steps to ensure their properties are fit to live in.
This is a slightly different requirement to the Defective Premises Act, although they overlap. In addition to repairing specific defects, landlords must ensure the general state of the property is fit for habitation.
Landlords must take steps to protect tenants from damp, mould, excess heat or cold, carbon monoxide and lead poisoning, along with a range of other hazards.
Before the Homes Act, in most cases, tenants could only take legal action against a landlord regarding safety hazards if they had actually been injured. Since March 2019, tenants can sue property owners for compensation including financial loss (e.g. caused by excess heating bills) and for inconvenience (e.g. not having full use of the property because there is no hot water).
What steps must landlords take?
Landlords are likely to be liable for any injuries caused by hazards that they knew about, and also those hazards they should have known about. Ignorance of a defect is not a defence, if a regular inspection would have caught the issue.
Regular inspections are therefore necessary. Given that landlords cannot access their rental properties without notice (and that such requests for access must be reasonable under the terms of most tenancy agreements) the actual frequency of inspections can be low. One inspection a year may be sufficient, depending on the circumstances.
More frequent checks may be necessary if a health hazard requires regular monitoring.
Landlords should also encourage their tenants to promptly inform them of any issues. This gives the landlord more time to act to repair defects and helps to maintain a positive relationship.
In the event that someone is injured, if the tenant is already aware that the landlord is proactive and concerned about health and safety, they may be less likely to take a confrontational approach to seeking compensation.
What are tenants’ responsibilities?
Tenants must promptly report any concern or potential hazard to their landlord as soon as they are aware of the issue. This gives the landlord more time to investigate and arrange for the defect to be repaired. Without this notification, a landlord might not become aware of an issue until it actually caused an injury.
The tenant may choose not to report the danger, and instead, come up with a work-around to avoid the hazard. That approach, however, would still put friends and family, tradespeople, managing agents and the landlord at risk of harm.
Reporting issues as early as possible also protects the tenant by giving them some recourse if they, or someone else, is subsequently injured. If the landlord is notified and negligently fails to act, the injured person will find it easier to claim compensation.
Part 2 will cover what happens if a tenant is injured in your property – stay tuned.
Chris Salmon – Author Bio
Chris Salmon is a co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal Services. Chris has played key roles in the shaping and scaling of a number of legal services brands and is a regular commentator in the legal press.