The Court of Appeal recently made it clear that despite there being an obligation on landlords to repair a property, this is not the same as an obligation to make the premises safe and that general defects did not have to be dealt with unless the premises were out of repair.
The case (Dodd v Raebarn Estates Ltd & 5 ors ) looked at whether the freeholder of a property was liable for the death of a visitor to a property which occurred when the visitor lost his footing on a flight of stairs which lacked a handrail.
The freeholder, in this case, did not have any specific obligation to repair or maintain the building because the head-lease of the building was silent in this respect and hence a statutory remedy was sought.
The court stated that a Landlord’s liability to repair/maintain under Section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972 can only apply where there is a defect. A defect only arises where there is an act or omission by the Landlord to maintain or repair the premises. As such, it was decided that the lack of a handrail was not considered to be a failure by the landlord to maintain the property, which constituted a failure to make safe.
What does repair mean? The court commented that in order to repair premises, one must restore the part of the premises to the condition it was in prior to the damage/alteration, by renewing or replacing the necessary parts. Repair does not, however, refer to something being inefficient or to the failure of a function which does not arise from physical damage. Repair simply means an obligation to fix things that are broken.
It was stated that while part of a building might not function adequately, that does not necessarily equate to being in disrepair.