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Landlords – Why a risk assessment doesn’t absolve liability

Landlords – Why a risk assessment doesn’t absolve liability

A warning has been issued to landlords of residential and commercial buildings alike to be fully aware that any risks left unfixed can still make them liable if an accident were to occur, even if that very risk has been independently risk assessed.

Sarah Fox of Enjoy Legal Learning has made this call to landlords after the case of Hannon vs. Hillingdon Homes, where the latter was left liable for injuries where a tenant had moved a bannister to an open-sided staircase.

The property in question, which Hillingdon Homes rented out, was open plan and the tenant had taken out the bannister out of personal choice and taste to compliment the space. The landlords were aware of this change, but did nothing about it. Over a period of twenty years, the landlord’s employees and contractors had visited the flat, without commenting on, noting or reporting the lack of a bannister or any potential health and safety risks.

This recently came to a head as a heating engineer, Mr. Hannon, came to fix the boiler, which was on the ground floor and examine the hot water cylinder, which was on the first floor. Hannon was working on the first floor when he heard a loud bang from downstairs. Fearing the boiler had exploded, he rushed down the stairs, during which he lost his footing, reached out to the non-existent bannister to steady himself, and in-turn fell and seriously injured his ankle.

The case went to court and ruled in favour of the Claimant, Hannon.

So it begs the question, should the landlord have put the bannister back in? Was the landlord liable despite 20 years without incident and an independent risk assessment? Sarah Fox was on hand to clarify.

She commented: “The landlord was held liable to its tenant under Section 4 of the Defective Premises Act – a landlord’s duty of care in relation to leased property – on the basis of their omission I.E. their failure to replace the bannisters, even though the tenant removed them. The lack of a formal written notice to the landlord identifying the defect was irrelevant, and the claimant’s own risk assessment did not affect the landlord’s liability.”

She concluded: “Landlords need to be vigilant and aware that they remain liable for structural defects which cause injury to people or damage to property, even where the premises are rented.”

Sarah has been Highly Commended in the SCL Hudson Prize competition in 2011 for papers on construction law. If you wish to contact her, please email Sarah via: