According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), more accidents occur in the home than anywhere else. 2.7 million people a year are treated in hospital A&E departments for injuries sustained at home.
RoSPA argues that many accidents in the home can be avoided by raising awareness of the dangers. RoSPA also sets out the safety measures that you should take to make your home safer.
For tenants living in rented accommodation, however, certain aspects of home safety will be outside their control.
As a landlord, you are legally responsible for providing a safe living environment. If you fail to meet your health and safety obligations and a tenant is injured, you could face legal action.
Landlords’ Health and Safety Responsibilities
Property tenants are protected by common law. Common law describes the implied terms of a tenancy agreement that require a property to be safe for tenants or visitors to use.
In addition, there are strict rules set out in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. These rules take precedence over any contradictory clauses in a tenancy agreement. Under the Act, the landlord is responsible for ensuring the property is fit for human habitation and properly maintained, both inside and out.
The landlord’s responsibilities include ensuring the property:
- is safe to live in and in a reasonable state of repair
- is able to withstand normal use by tenants and visitors
- can withstand normal weather conditions
- is free from damp and well-ventilated
There are other health and safety regulations that landlords must follow, such as a requirement to fit working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.
Common Injuries that Could Give Rise to a Claim
If a tenant is injured by their own furniture or other possessions, or by the actions of another tenant or guest, their landlord is unlikely to be liable.
However, there are many varied circumstances where a landlord could be liable for a tenant’s injury or illness.
Slips, Trips and Falls
Loose or uneven floorboards, badly fitting or worn carpets or vinyl flooring can be trip hazards. Poorly maintained bannister rails and staircases are also potentially dangerous.
In the garden or other outside spaces, poor lighting, uneven and loose paving slabs or badly maintained steps may be unsafe.
Poor ventilation and damp conditions in the home can lead to the growth of mould, particularly in bathrooms and kitchens. Spores can cause or contribute to lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema.
A landlord could also be liable if their failure to maintain the property caused a tenant’s pre-existing health condition to get worse.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is often caused by malfunctioning or poorly ventilated gas boilers and appliances. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, breathlessness, collapse and loss of consciousness.
In serious cases, CO poisoning can be life-threatening, causing damage to the brain and heart. Compensation for these severe injuries can exceed £100,000s.
Landlords must make sure all gas appliances in the property are safe, and must arrange for a gas safety check to be carried out by a ‘gas safe’ engineer every 12 months.
Scalds and Burns
Defective hot water systems pose a serious scalding risk. Warning signs that the system is failing include:
- Excessively hot water coming out of the hot water taps
- Excessive noise or ‘bubbling’ from the hot water cylinder
- Hot water coming out of certain cold water taps (some storage cisterns also feed cold water taps in the bathroom)
- Steam or moisture in the roof space
Even if there are no obvious signs of risk, hot water and heating systems should still be regularly checked and maintained by a qualified tradesperson.
Can an Injured Tenant Claim Compensation from a Landlord?
A landlord will be liable for a tenant’s injury if the tenant’s solicitor can prove that the injury was caused by the landlord’s actions or negligence. A landlord may also be liable if the tenant’s injury is related to a statutory duty that the landlord failed to fulfill.
The tenant’s solicitor must prove that the landlord knew, or should have known, about the property defect that led to the injury or illness.
If the landlord was unaware of a defect, and there was no way the landlord could reasonably have been aware, the landlord is not likely to be liable.
What are the Tenant’s Responsibilities?
You should encourage your tenants to promptly inform you of any defects. This notice allows you a reasonable time to make any necessary repairs.
Determining what ‘a reasonable standard of care’ is may depend on characteristics of the tenant. For example, if a tenant is not fluent in English, and they are injured by a property defect, a landlord may be liable for the injury even if there were signs in English warning of the hazard.
What Could a Tenant’s Injury Claim Cost?
In the event that a tenant makes a successful injury claim, the courts would award compensation based on the Judicial College Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury. Awards can exceed £10,000s, even for less serious injuries.
The tenant’s compensation will include a “general damages” amount representing the pain and suffering that the tenant experienced.
The award or settlement will also include “special damages” consisting of the financial losses the tenant has suffered. These losses can include treatment costs, damage to belongings, travel expenses and any wages they have lost due to time off work.
The costs of defending a tenant’s injury claim can be ruinous. Landlords’ liability insurance offers protection against the cost of both fighting a claim and the cost of the compensation if the tenant’s claim is successful.
For obvious reasons, insurance isn’t a substitute for a landlord’s maintenance and repair obligations. Indeed, if the landlord fails to fulfil their obligations, the policy may be void or the insurer may sue the landlord to recover their costs.
Landlords’ insurance also ensures that, if a tenant does sustain life-changing injuries, the tenant will be able to secure the financial support they need, in the form of compensation.
Taking Proactive Action
There are many situations in which a landlord will clearly be liable for a tenant’s injuries, and many more cases where liability is unclear, leading to a drawn-out legal fight.
Wherever possible, landlords should seek to build a positive relationship with their tenants, asking the tenant to report hazards and concerns as soon as possible, and taking prompt action. Maintaining a good relationship will also encourage the tenant to be flexible when emergency repairs must be undertaken.
Finally, if an accident does occur, having a strong relationship with your tenants will help to make the claims process less stressful and less costly for all sides.
Chris Salmon is a Co-founder and Director of Quittance Legal Services. Chris has played key roles in the shaping and scaling of a number of legal services brands and is a regular commentator in the legal press.
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