Case law: Duty to maintain and repair premises did not make landlord liable for lack of handrail on stairs
Whilst landlords must ensure they maintain and repair their premises - or risk breaching defective premises law - they are not legally required to make the premises safe by installing new items, according to a recent ruling.
A visitor to a block of flats lost his footing on the stairs and died two years later of his injuries, having never woken from a coma. There was no handrail on the stairs.
His widow claimed the landlord was liable under defective premises law which says a landlord owes a duty of care to maintain or repair any 'relevant defect' in the premises they let. She argued this required him to provide a handrail.
The Court of Appeal disagreed: the obligation under defective premises law only required the landlord to maintain and repair existing items, not to provide items that were not there. If there had been a handrail, and it had not been in proper repair, the landlord may have been liable. But as there was no handrail, the landlord could not be liable for the consequences of a failure to maintain or repair it. The relevant law did not impose a duty to make premises safe.
The Court also noted that repairing part of premises by replacing an item with an inferior one did not necessarily amount to a failure to maintain or repair - even though the replacement meant the premises were, in a sense, in a worse state than previously.
Landlords should ensure they maintain and repair their premises, or risk breaching defective premises law. However, the law does not oblige them to make the premises safer by installing new items
Case ref: Dodd (widow and executrix of Paul Dodd) v Raebarn Estates Limited and ors  EWCA Civ 439
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