Landlord didn’t participate or authorise so as to share tenant’s nuisance liability

The recent Supreme Court case of Coventry & Ors v Lawrence & Anor [2014] involved the claimants’ bungalow which was across some fields from a speedway track and raised a number of issues in the law of private nuisance.

One later issue in Coventry & Ors v Lawrence & Anor (No 2) [2014] was the extent to which the Landlords of the speedway track shared liability for their Tenant’s nuisance.

What follows is based on the judgment of Lord Neuberger supported by two of the other four Supreme Court Judges. Dissenting Lord Carnwath and Lord Mance delivered strong judgments whereby they would have found the Landlords here to share liability for their Tenant’s nuisance.

The idea that a distinction might be made absolving the Landlords from nuisance was particularly controversial for Lord Mance.

Landlords do not become liable for their tenant’s nuisance simply by failing to enforce a tenant’s lease covenant which would put an end to the nuisance. It would be wrong to “render [the landlord] a sort of trustee of [such a] covenant for the benefit of [a neighbour]”.

Accordingly, if the claim in nuisance against a landlord is to succeed, the claimant must prove the landlord’s “active” or “direct” participation in the nuisance.

Whether a landlord directly participated in his tenant’s nuisance must mainly pivot on what happened after the grant of the lease, although the nature and circumstances of the grant and what preceded it may also provide pointers.

The fact that a landlord does nothing to stop or discourage a tenant from causing a nuisance is not tantamount to “participating” in the nuisance. Even if a person has the power to prevent the nuisance, inaction or failure to act could not, of itself, amount to authorising the nuisance.

The fact the Landlords had erected a hay-bale wall around the stadium to discourage complaints and to keep down the noise was hardly consistent with them authorising it. It was somewhat ironic that the appellants argued that the Landlords took no steps to prevent the nuisance, and then argued that their taking of steps to reduce the nuisance supported the contention that they were liable for it.

The Landlords seeking to persuade the local authority not to take nuisance abatement action in relation to alleged noise or other nuisance emanating from their Tenant’s activities or taking a leading part in fighting off the risk of claims in common law, had more force, but, did not show that the Landlords authorised or participated in the nuisance. They were bound to oppose the imposition of restrictions which would affect the value of their reversion. The most it could do was to reinforce any other factors, that might be present, which supported the view that the Landlords had authorised or participated in the nuisance.

Apart from the above during the time that the appellants alleged nuisance, the Landlords:

– had no involvement in the activities carried on at the Stadium and the Track;

– were not in possession of the Stadium or the Track;

– took no share of the profits from the activities at the Stadium and the Track; and

– could not be said to have caused the nuisance in any way.

The Supreme Court held the Landlords were not liable for their Tenant’s nuisance.

This blog has been posted out of general interest. It does not replace the need to get bespoke legal advice in individual cases.