There is a long held notion that landlords are not liable for external area repairs nor liable for disrepair unless they have been notified by their tenant. At first, Edwards v Kumarasamy appeared to challenge these assertions and thus the scope of prominent disrepair legislation - the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. However the Supreme Court has overturned the contentious decisions of the Court of Appeal, ultimately upholding the traditional view of a landlords obligations.
Mr Kumarasamy leased his property to Mr Edwards, as it was a flat, Mr Edwards was provided with access to the entrance hall, staircases, lift, landings and communal bin area. In 2010, Mr Edwards fell and injured himself due to an uneven paving stone on his way to the communal bin area. He took action against Mr Kumarasamy for failing to repair the external communal areas under s11(A) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 under the basis that the landlord has an obligation to repair the ‘structure and exterior of any part of the building in which the lessor has an estate or interest’.
Initially, Mr Edwards was awarded £3,750 damages at first instance however a high court appeal dismissed this award on the basis that the unevenly paved area was outside the scope of S11 and that even if so, no notice was provided to Mr Kumarasamy giving him the chance to carry out such repairs to he could not be found liable.
Court of Appeal findings
The Court of Appeal found for Mr Edwards and overturned this decision on the basis that even if the landlord did not did not own the surrounding building of his flat, he still had an ‘estate or interest’ and a right of access thus he had an obligation to the tenant in regards to this. Further, it was decided that the landlord did not actually need to be served notice as the disrepair was outside of the property and thus discoverable to the landlord, contrary to prior precedent.
Supreme Court findings
The case was then appealed again by Mr Kumarasamy and this time the Supreme Court overturned the previous decision. Firstly, they found that the exterior path did not constitute part of Mr Kumarasamy’s property. Secondly, they regarded the fact that there was an ‘estate or interest’ leading from the flat as irrelevant to the dispute matter. Lastly and most significantly, the issue was whether the landlord was to be given notice and they held that he did. As Mr Edwards was in continuous use of the pathway he was in the best position to spot and thus notify the landlord of this.
As Lord Neuburger states,
‘ I would therefore allow this appeal, on the ground that, although he had a sufficient “interest” in the front hallway and paved area for the purposes of section 11(1A)(a), Mr Kumarasamy was not liable for the disrepair which caused Mr Edwards’s injury, as (i) he could only be liable if the paved area was “part of the exterior of the front hall” and it was not, and (ii) he could only be liable if he had had notice of the disrepair before the accident and he did not’.
Consequently, the Supreme Court’s final decision found in favour of Mr Kumarasamy. The Supreme court has clearly reaffirmed the law on disrepair; that disrepair to external areas do not fall under a landlords obligations and that a tenant must give notice to a landlord of any disrepair in order for a landlord to be held liable.
The court of appeal decision would have posed a significant change for landlords and agents as they could be taken to court for disrepair to parts of the property they don’t personally own.
Therefore final Supreme Court decision can be said to be greatly to the advantage of Landlords and signifies a move away from the somewhat burdensome interpretation of ‘structure and interior’ which would impose an onerous repair duty on the landlord.