A replacement staircase may have steep stairs and no handrail, which may make it unsafe to tenants and their visitors. But, if well constructed, it will not in any sense be “out of repair,” even if the absence of a handrail breached Building Regulations, and the staircase breached planning laws.
However, for liability to attach under section 4(1)-(3) of the Defective Premises Act 1972 (‘DPA’), the deficiencies in the property that cause the harm must have amounted to a “relevant defect” as defined in section 4(3) of the DPA. That is to say, the defect’s origin or continuance must have been due to an act or omission by the landlord which amounted to a failure by the landlord to carry out the landlord’s maintenance or repair obligations to the tenant. In some cases such failure may depend on the landlord having had notice of the defect.
Under section 4(4) of the DPA, where the landlord has the right to enter tenanted property to carry out maintenance or repair, and such right becomes exerciseable, the landlord may also be fixed with liability to third parties for those deficiences of maintenance or repair.
In Dodd v Raebarn Estates Ltd & Ors  the rail less staircase, installed in breach of building regulations and planning laws, which the claimant fell down, were within the leased area, so the statutory hypothesis in section 4(4) applied, but whilst acknowledging that the rail less staircase was unsafe, the High Court said that because it was well constructed the accident was not due to any failure to carry out obligations as to the maintenance or repair of the premises and therefore the victim’s estate had no claim under section 4.
In it’s preoccupation with maintenance and repair rather than safety section 4 has left a gap denying justice to victims of unsafe property.
This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.