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Landlords have a legal duty to keep the premises they let to tenants in a safe condition and if they fail to do so can be held liable for any injury or loss that results.
Recently, a local authority was ordered to pay compensation to a council tenant who was injured whilst mowing her lawn. As she stepped onto a defective manhole cover, it gave way and she fell into the void beneath. The woman's claim (under Section 4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972) was initially rejected by the court.
In upholding the woman's appeal against that ruling, the Court of Appeal found that the fact that the manhole cover was owned by a utilities company made no difference to the council's duties under her lease to maintain the interior and exterior of the property in a reasonable state of repair.
The manhole cover, which had been in place for over 40 years, posed a clear and obvious safety risk to the tenant and her two small children. The council should in all the circumstances have been aware of that risk and the Act therefore imposed upon it a duty to inspect the manhole cover regularly. The defect could readily have been detected by means of a simple pressure test. The woman was awarded just over £15,000 in damages.