There appears to be always different viewpoints on the question whether a landlord is liable if someone is injured in a rental property and the injury is caused by defects in the property.
There are landlords who rent out investment properties and the concern is always the liability for personal injuries. In a recent case (Sheehy v Hobbs ) Ms Sheehy fell down a set of internal stairs in a residential unit she was renting and sustained significant injuries.
The court found that the fall occurred as a result of the stairs not fully complying with the requirements of the Building Code of Australia and other Australian Standards in that the steps were too narrow, the nosing on each step was rounded, the lighting on the stairs was too dim and the stairs were not fitted with any or any adequate handrails.
The question before the court was whether there was any obligation on the landlord to make alterations to the stairs to make it safe.
The court’s decision was primarily based on the question whether the landlord had actual or constructive knowledge of the defects of the stairs. Evidence before the court showed that the landlord and its agent regularly inspected the premises, no previous tenant had raised any issues with the stairs and there were no structural changes made to the stairs during the tenancy.
The court found that the landlord did not have any knowledge of the defects and the landlord could not have reasonably been expected to be aware of the defects.
The following is a brief summary of the principles which a court will apply to determine the liability of a landlord:-
- The duty owed by a landlord is no more than taking reasonable steps to discover and deal with the risk of injuries.
- To be liable it will be necessary to show firstly the premises were defective and secondly that the landlord knew or ought to have known of that defect and not acted on it.
- If a landlord has no specific knowledge of any defects there is no duty on the landlord to retain an expert to report on the potential defects in a residential property.
In cases where claimants were successful against landlords it was always proven that the landlord had actual or constructive notice of the risk but had ignored to deal with the risk.
The fact that the landlord in this specific case carried out regular inspections either himself or his agent and kept written records of these inspections was enough to show that the landlord had no knowledge of any defects.
The lesson to be learned for all landlords is therefore to do regular inspections, to keep records of those inspections and to deal with any potential risk that comes to its knowledge.
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