UK: What You (Reasonably) Don't Know Won't Hurt You - Liability For Landlords For Defective Premises

Last Updated: 8 July 2016
Article by Erina Pieri

Lafferty v Newark & Sherwood DC (2016) EWHC 320 (QB)


In the case of Lafferty v Newark & Sherwood DC, the Court confirmed that landlords cannot be liable under the Defective Premises Act 1972 for damages caused by subsidence or sink holes where the landlords had no reasonable possibility of knowing of the potential defect.

The Court held that, although the faulty drainage was a 'relevant defect', as the problem with the drainage could not have been discovered on reasonable inspection, it was a latent defect. Therefore, the Landlord did not owe a duty of care to the Tenant.

The key points to note in light of the Court's decision are as follows:

  • If a landlord, following reasonable inspection of its property, has knowledge of a defect to the property, the landlord could be liable for any injury caused as a result of the defect.
  • Landlords must take immediate action if defects are found at their property to avoid any potential injury which could be caused.
  • Landlords should take detailed records of any inspections carried out at their property as such information would be useful in building a defence, should a claim for damages from their tenants arise as a result of injury caused by a relevant defect.

The facts

Robina Lafferty was the Tenant of a property in Ollerton (the "Tenant"). Newark & Sherwood District Council was the Landlord (the "Landlord").

In 2010, the Tenant was hanging up laundry in the garden when a hole suddenly opened up in the ground. The Tenant fell into the hole and sustained injuries that would have been assessed at £12,000 of damages, subject to liability.

The most likely cause of the hole in the ground was as a result of a fractured underground drainpipe that had led to erosion of the soil causing a void underground.

There were no external signs or warnings of this potential problem and no reasonable inspection of the garden could have discovered the void underground. However, the Tenant sought to recover from the Landlord the damages she incurred due to her injuries.

The Defective Premises Act 1972 ("DPA")

The Tenant attempted to rely on section 4 of the DPA to establish the Landlord's liability.

The DPA applies where the landlord has an obligation to repair or maintain the property. Section 4(1) of the DPA imposes a duty of care on landlords to ensure users of their property are reasonably safe from personal injury attributable to a relevant defect. Pursuant to section 4(2) of the DPA, the duty of care is owed if the landlord knows, or if he ought in all the circumstances to have known, of the relevant defect.

Under section 4(3), the DPA defines a 'relevant defect' as follows:

  • a defect in the state of the premises;
  • existing at or after the material time and arising from, or continuing because of an act or omission by the landlord; and
  • which constitutes, or would have constituted (if the landlord had notice of the defect), a failure to carry out the landlord's obligation to maintain or repair the premises.

Section 4(4) of the DPA treats the landlord as having an obligation to repair, even if the lease is silent, in cases where the landlord has rights of entry to inspect. Section 4(4) can be summarised as follows:

Where premises are let under a tenancy which expressly or impliedly gives the landlord the right to enter the premises to carry out any maintenance or repair works, then, the landlord will be treated, as if he were under an obligation to the tenant to maintain or repair the premises; the landlord will not owe the tenant any duty in respect of any defect arising from, or continuing because of, a failure to carry out an obligation expressly imposed on the tenant by the tenancy.

The decision

It was held in this case that the faulty drainage was a 'relevant defect' for the purpose of section 4(3) of the DPA. However, as it could not have been discovered on reasonable inspection, it was a latent defect (i.e. a relevant defect which the landlord could not have reasonably had notice of). Therefore, section 4(2) of the DPA was not engaged and the Landlord did not owe a duty of care to the Tenant.

The Tenant's claim was based on an argument that section 4(4) of the DPA imposes strict liability on landlords for any injury, regardless of whether or not the landlord had notice of the defect. Applying such an argument would result in the Landlord being liable to the Tenant for damages, even though the Landlord did not have notice, and could not on a reasonable inspection have had notice, of the defect.

The Court did not accept the Tenant's argument and, instead, held that the duty of care which arises under section 4(4) of the DPA, as a result of a landlord having a right to enter to repair a premises, is the same duty as applies under section 4(1) of the DPA where the landlord has an express or implied obligation to repair. Therefore, the Landlord's liability was limited to matters which fell within the meaning of 'repair' and did not extend to strict liability.

Our comments

Landlords may be liable to tenants under statute such as the DPA, the terms of the lease or at common law. This case clarifies the position that landlords cannot be liable under the DPA where the landlords had no reasonable possibility of knowing of the potential defect.

Accordingly, this decision is helpful for landlords because, although the DPA imposes a duty of care on landlords, this duty of care is limited to landlords having knowledge of the defect i.e. by their being visible signs of the potential problem on reasonable inspection.

Consequently, if a landlord, following reasonable inspection of its property, would have knowledge of a defect, the landlord could be liable for any personal injury caused as a result of the defect in the property. Therefore, landlords ought to take action immediately if defects are found at their property to avoid any potential injury which could be caused. Further, landlords ought to take accurate and detailed records of any inspections carried out at their property as it is likely that the level of inspection carried out would be scrutinised if a tenant makes a claim for damages as a result of an injury caused due to a relevant defect.

This case also follows the Court's thinking in the case of Drysdale v Hedges [2012] EWHC B20 (QB) where the landlord was not liable to pay damages to a tenant who had slipped on painted steps. In the Drysdale case, the Court held that the landlord had not acted unreasonably in choosing to paint the steps and therefore had not breached any duty of care to the tenant.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

*** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.