The unfortunate Ms Drysdale was injured on the first day of her tenancy when she was ascending the steps to the property she had rented. She fell on the middle of three steps which had been painted red by the landlady to improve their appearance. There was a low wall (9.5 cm) next to the steps and a 2.5 metre (8 feet) drop on the other side of the wall. Ms Drysdale fell over the wall and was seriously injured. The judge in Drysdale v Joanne Hedges (27th July 2012, Unreported) found that the drop was dangerous and a reasonable landlord ought to have raised the wall or provided a guardrail. He also found that the paint increased the slipperiness of the steps. Nonetheless he dismissed the claim commenting that he had considerable sympathy for Ms Drysdale but that her remedy could only be in another court. The judgment provides an interesting analysis of what duties are owed by a landlord to a tenant for personal injury and in what circumstances.
The case was brought under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 (‘OLA’), the Defective Premises Act 1972 (‘DPA’) and at common law.
The judge considered that the OLA did not apply: at the time of the accident the tenancy and occupation had commenced. He held that parliament could not have intended s. 4 of the ‘DPA’ and s. 2 of the OLA both to define a landlord’s duty. In fact s. 4 of the DPA replaced s.4 OLA.
The judge turned to s. 4 of the DPA. He noted that in order to show a breach of the tenancy agreement and s. 4 Ms Drysdale had to show the premises were ‘not in good repair’. The judge cited Alker v Collingwood 1 W.L.R. 2230 in which a claimant had argued that a glass panel in a door in rented premises was dangerous because it did not contain safety glass. Carnworth L.J. said that a duty to repair could not be equated with a duty to make safe. You could let out a house with a very steep stairway with no railings but s. 4 does not require you to make safe such a dangerous feature. The judge also referred to Quick v Taff Ely Borough Council  QB 809 in which Lawton LJ said ‘a tenant must take the house as he finds it; neither a landlord nor a tenant is bound to provide the other with a better house than there was to start with’.
Applying all of this the judge found that although the drop from the middle step to the basement was dangerous, it was not out of repair; the drop from the steps would not have been unusual at the time the house was built. He also concluded that the steps were not actually out of repair. Accordingly there was no breach of section 4.
The judge then turned to the common law. He observed that Cavalier v Pope  AC 428 decided that a landlord who lets premises in a dangerous condition owes no duty to remedy the defect and no duty of care to a third party injured as a result of the defect. That decision had been criticised and attempts had been made to limit its effect. The claimant in Lips v Older  PIQR P14 suffered a similar accident to Ms Drysdale. He was successful but Cavalier v Pope was not mentioned. It was also not mentioned in Sowerby v Charlton  1 WLR 568 by the Court of Appeal. That case also involved similar facts but the case was about admission of liability and whether a judgment should be set aside and not whether such a common law duty was owed. The judge concluded that Sowerby did not bind him.
In the end the judge took the view that he was bound by Cavalier so far as the unguarded drop was concerned and that the landlady had no duty to guard it. However he did consider that she owed a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that the application of the paint did not create an unnecessary risk of injury. Without such a duty a landlord would have carte blanche to act with impunity and create dangers which would not be caught by the 1972 Act.
Even though he found there was a duty in relation to the steps and that the presence of the paint unnecessarily increased the risk, he did not find a breach. A knowledgeable person might have known that the B & Q paint would have increased the risk but not the ordinary man on the street. Accordingly it could not be said that the landlady had failed to take reasonable care.
So, no duty under the Occupiers’ Liability Act where section 4 of the DPA applies. No breach of duty under section 4 of the DPA where there is no disrepair. No duty is owed at common law by a landlord who lets premises in a dangerous condition (Cavalier is still good law) but a landlord owes a duty to take reasonable care not to create an unnecessary risk of injury.
It is not clear whether the Claimant will appeal – watch this space!