The DPA 1972 is an important, but often misunderstood, piece of legislation within personal injury.
Below is a quick guide to the DPA and its application.
Prior to the DPA a landlord could not be found liable for injury caused by lease of their dangerous premises. The only cause of action available to the injured party was against the tenant as occupier. The DPA was therefore enacted to provide a statutory cause of action against landlords.
Cause of action under the DPA:
The cause of action can be found within s4 of the DPA which provides as follows:
“s.4(1)Where premises are let under a tenancy which puts on the landlord an obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises, the landlord owes to all persons who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises a duty to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to see that they are reasonably safe from personal injury or from damage to their property caused by a relevant defect.
(2)The said duty is owed if the landlord knows (whether as the result of being notified by the tenant or otherwise) or if he ought in all the circumstances to have known of the relevant defect.”
Duty owed to all persons who might ‘reasonably be affected’
This is an important point to note within the legislation as it is not just the tenant who has a cause of action under the DPA. For example if one flat floods and causes damage to the flat below, the resident of the adjoining flat would be an ‘affected person’ for the purposes of the DPA. Visitors, tenants and co-habitants would also be owed a duty by the defendant landlord.
The matter complained of must be a ‘relevant defect’
“s.4(3) In this section “relevant defect” means 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 which constitutes or would if he had had notice of the defect, have constituted a failure by him to carry out his obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises”.
In order to be relevant the defect must therefore be something which the landlord has responsibility for under the tenancy agreement and which he would have been obliged to repair.
However, this duty is very wide. A landlord will be treated as having an obligation to repair a given defect if, within the tenancy agreement, the landlord has the right to enter the premises for the purposes of repairing it – even if the defect in question is not specifically named within the tenancy agreement.
The landlord must have actual/ constructive/ imputed knowledge of the defect to render him liable.
“s.4(4)Where premises are let under a tenancy which expressly or impliedly gives the landlord the right to enter the premises to carry out any description of maintenance or repair of the premises, then, as from the time when he first is, or by notice or otherwise can put himself, in a position to exercise the right and so long as he is or can put himself in that position, he shall be treated for the purposes of subsections (1) to (3) above (but for no other purpose) as if he were under an obligation to the tenant for that description of maintenance or repair of the premises”
This reflects the similar position at common law – a defendant will only be liable for matters which he knew about/ should have known about. Nevertheless, under s4(4) a landlord will be treated as having knowledge if he had the right to enter the property in order to carry out inspections and repairs – regardless of whether an inspection was actually carried out or not, as long as the landlord was in a position to exercise that right and the defect would have been apparent upon inspection.
However, such imputed knowledge arguably does not apply where the defect is a ‘latent’ defect rather than a patent defect. See Paula Pritchard v Caerphilly CBC (2013) CC. In this case the tenant Claimant was injured when the handrail on her stairs gave way. C accepted that she was not aware of any issues with the handrail prior to her accident, despite using it on a daily basis, and further that such defect had not been ascertainable prior to the accident.
On this basis the Defendant Council was found not to be liable in the circumstances. Although the council did have right of entry for inspection, the council had not breached the duty owed under s4(1) as the D had taken such care as was reasonable in the circumstances.
17th October 2014