Who is responsible for works completed by tenants?

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A recent case has rung alarm bells regarding tenants carrying out their own works to properties. 

In Hannon v Hillingdon Homes the tenant had, many years ago, removed the bannister and handrail to the internal staircase.  In 2008, a workman employed by one of the council's contractors fell from the staircase and was injured. 

The council was found liable under The Defective Premises Act 1972, despite initially arguing that the stairs were so obviously dangerous any reasonable workman would have refused to work in the building.  The council also contended:

  • the bannisters and handrail were not part of the structure of the property;
  • it had not been under any duty to repair them because the tenant had removed them; and
  • it had no notice of the defect.
The court disagreed.  It said the bannister was part of the structure and there was an obligation to repair it.  In addition, the court found there had been sufficient visits to the property by the council so that it knew, or ought to have known, about the defect.

What this means for social landlords

Are you sufficiently aware of the condition of your properties?  It is vital that your staff who visit your properties are routinely looking for repairs issues.  Would your teams have spotted there was no handrail on the stairs?  If they had, what would/should they have done about it?  It is also interesting to note the timescale of the case.  The injury happened in February 2008 and the claim was started in July 2010.  Would your record keeping have been up to scrutiny more than two years after the event?  The court's decision comes in July 2012 so the legal costs in this case are likely to have been considerable.