Landlords and tenants can both be liable for customer injuries
You run a very successful restaurant in the city centre. You lease the building from a property company and have fitted it out and branded it as one of your chain. There are steps up to the front door of the restaurant with a handrail to one side. There has never been a handrail to the other side. In the recent cold weather the mortar between some of the paving slabs making up the steps cracked causing some of them to work loose. The landlord has an obligation in the lease for maintenance and repair. As soon as you noticed the slabs were loose you contacted the landlord and asked them to repair the steps as a matter of urgency. However, there has been some delay in the slabs being re-fixed and in the meantime a customer has tripped on one of the loose ones and broken her ankle. She claims that the steps were dangerous and also that had there been a handrail on both sides of the steps it would have stopped her from tripping. Who is likely to be liable to pay compensation?
The landlord’s responsibilities
An occupier has a duty to visitors on his premises under the Occupier’s Liability Act 1957. However, in a recent case (Drysdale v Hedges) the court has confirmed that this duty is not intended to apply to a landlord because a landlord’s duty statutory liability is set out in S.4 Defective Premises Act 1972 and it is not intended that a landlord should have liability under both pieces of legislation.
Where there is an obligation in the lease on the landlord to repair and maintain property, S.4 Defective Premises Act gives a landlord a duty to “take reasonable care to ensure that tenants and third parties are reasonably safe from injury to them or their property caused by a relevant defect in the property”. Often the liability of the landlord to repair a defect will only crystalise once the tenant has reported the defect to the landlord. In this case, the loose slabs would be a “relevant defect” under the DPA and were reported to the landlord so it is in breach of its statutory duty under DPA and the customer may bring a claim for damages against the landlord.
A landlord also has a duty at common law to take reasonable care not to create an unnecessary risk of injury. In Drysdale v Hedges a missing handrail was considered dangerous but as the tenant had rented the premises with no handrail in place the landlord was not under a duty to make the premises safe by installing one.
The tenant’s responsibilities
The injured customer may well have a claim against your landlord for failing to repair the damaged steps once you had notified him of the need to do so. However, as the tenant of the premises and as an employer you also owe a duty to protect the health and safety of your staff and customers. If you negligently breach this duty of care an injured party can claim damages. In addition you have obligations under statute, for example, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Occupier’s Liability Acts, a breach of which can lead to you being prosecuted in the magistrates or Crown Court where you may be fined and/or sentenced to a period in prison.
When defending a claim against you it is important for you to be able to demonstrate that you have carried out regular risk assessments at the premises and that you have taken all reasonable steps to avoid accident and injury. For example, once the steps had become dangerous it would not be enough for you to report this to the landlord and require him to fix the defect as a matter of urgency. You would also need to make the steps safe for customers by, for example, taping off the damaged steps or requiring customers to enter the premises by a different route until the steps have been mended. The customer in question is also likely to bring a negligence claim against you as the restaurant operator as you continued to allow the steps to be used once you knew that they were dangerous.
For further detail on your duty to protect your staff and customers from trips and falls see our article How dangerous are your premises?
The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.