Landlord and tenant: reducing exposure to repairing obligations

A recent Supreme Court decision is likely to be met with relief by buy-to-let owners of leasehold properties.

The court had been asked to consider whether an intermediate landlord was in breach of the statutory covenant to keep the structure and exterior of a dwelling-house in repair. The intermediate landlord had sublet his second floor flat to a tenant under an assured shorthold tenancy. The tenant tripped and injured himself on some uneven paving when taking rubbish out to the communal bins.

Under the terms of the headlease, the freeholder was responsible for keeping the communal areas in good condition, subject to being given notice of the defect. Neither the intermediate landlord nor the freeholder had received notice of any defect.

The Supreme Court held that the intermediate landlord was not in breach of the statutory obligation to repair because the paved area did not fall within the scope of the repairing obligation. However, while the decision will be of considerable comfort to buy-to-let landlords who are in a similar position to the one outlined here, it might not always be clear when a tenant must give notice of disrepair.