Trial and Error - Verdict on Edwards Vs Kumarasamy Toppled

Zahraa Valu

By Zahraa Valu

26 July 2016

It was the case that struck fear into the hearts of landlords everywhere. When Mr Edwards tripped on a communal pathway and injured his knee on the way into the block of flats he was renting a flat in, he took his landlord to court.

Mr Kumarasamy only owned the leasehold to the individual flat, rather than the freehold to either the flat or the block it was housed in. But the case, which has been kicked from court to court, still centered on his liability for repairs. At last, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court found that Mr Kumarasamy was only legally responsible for repairing structural or exterior problems, and not for the pathway in question.

It’s been a story of U-turns. This verdict follows an initial ruling that landlords are only liable for repairs on the specific entity they rent out, a judgment that was later overturned by the Court of Appeal. Instead, the Court of Appeal ruled that landlords are liable for repairing communal areas in disrepair, such as pathways. It then went a step further, saying that landlords are even responsible for fixing problems they haven’t been notified of.

But when the case reached the Supreme Court, the verdict switched again.

The final judgment overruled the Court of Appeal, and stated that landlords are only liable for the fabric of the building/footprint, not the exterior leading up to the building.

The verdict concluded: "Although he had a sufficient "interest" in the front hallway and paved area for the purposes of section 11 (1A)(a), Mr Kumarasamy was not liable for the disrepair which caused Mr Edwards's injury, as (i) he could only be liable if the paved area was "part of the exterior of the front hall" and it was not, and (ii) he could only be liable if he had had notice of the disrepair before the accident and he did not."

The ruling is a huge relief for the landlord community, who at one point could have been held responsible for fixing problems they weren’t even aware of. But before leaseholders go cracking the champagne, they should focus on the lessons they can learn from this case.

Communication is key

If a landlord is unable to carry out repairs in a communal area, proof they have taken all reasonable measures to do so may be used as an acceptable defence. But it is crucial that all relevant communications can be evidenced – without clear, date-stamped records, this line of defence may fold.

Spread the word

Leaseholders must notify the freeholder of any disrepair as soon as they hear of it. While it might not be the leaseholders’ responsibility to fix it, it is their responsibility to report it. Again, communication must be documented in a way that it can be audited. Or put simply, by providing tenants with a clear method of communication for repair requests in writing, proving a negative (that something has not been reported) becomes far simpler.

Ignorance is bliss – sort of

Generally speaking, this landmark case has not interfered with the principle that the landlord assumes all is well, unless he hears otherwise. Put simply, a landlord must be informed of a necessary repair before he is beholden to undertake it.

Don’t shoot the messenger

But landlords should note that the landlord is liable as soon as they have notice of property defects, and it doesn’t matter where the notice comes from. In short, even if somebody unrelated brings an issue to their attention, they’re on the hook to fix it as soon as they have knowledge of it.

Build to rent

With the rise of build to rent firmly underway, freeholders renting out individual units in a block and estate fall outside the remit of this decision. That said, the implication is that they would be liable for repairs both to the structure and those parts of the estate or block over which tenants have rights of access.

The final message appears to be that, in order to protect themselves, landlords should devote the same amount of time to keeping their paperwork in order as they do to the properties themselves – and in many cases that should be a lot more.


This article is intended for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions related to issues in this article, we strongly advise contacting a legal professional.
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Zahraa Valu

By Zahraa Valu

26 July 2016

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