A recent Court of Appeal decision will be of concern to buy-to-let and other intermediate landlords, who may unexpectedly find themselves liable for repairs to communal areas, even though the head landlord is responsible for their upkeep and they have no notice of any defect.

In this case, the landlord had sublet his second floor flat to a tenant under an assured shorthold tenancy. The tenant tripped and injured himself on some uneven paving when taking rubbish out to the communal bins. Under the terms of the headlease, the freeholder was responsible for keeping the communal areas in good condition, subject to being given notice of the defect. Neither the intermediate landlord nor the freeholder had received notice of any defect.

The Court of Appeal held that the intermediate landlord was in breach of an obligation to repair even though he had received no notification of the uneven paving. The paved pathway formed part of the exterior of the front hall over which the intermediate landlord had a right to walk. Therefore, the intermediate landlord’s statutory repairing obligation applied to the paved area.
As it is not possible to exclude these obligations, there seems little that intermediate landlords can do. Although landlords should generally keep an eye on their properties, it may be impossible for them to know in time that a defect has occurred given that liability arises immediately.

Background information; A landlord of a residential lease granted for a term of less than seven years has certain repair obligations implied by law. These repair obligations include an obligation to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the property.

If the lease is of a dwelling-house that forms only part of a building, then the landlord’s obligation to repair applies to the parts of the building in which the landlord has an interest. A “dwelling-house” is not limited to a house, it also includes a flat.

The content of this update is for information only and does not constitute legal advice. It states the law as at February 2015. We recommend that specific professional advice is obtained on any particular matter. We do not accept responsibility for any loss arising as a result of the use of the information contained in this update.