10 August, 2012
What constitutes the structure of a house?
The implied requirement for landlords to "keep in repair the structure and exterior" of a property, as implied by s.11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, has been subject to much conjecture. Recently the case of Grand v Gill (2011) established that the implied term included plaster within the definition of 'structure'. In Patrick Joseph Hannon v Hillingdon Homes Limited (2012) His Honour Judge Thornton QC has provided further guidance as to what constitutes the structure of a house for the purposes of s.11.
Mr Hannon was an electrical technician employed by a company that had a long-term maintenance contract with Hillingdon Homes. On 18 February 2008 he attended one of Hillingdon's properties in order to complete some repairs to the boiler. Whilst completing the repairs he fell on the stairs and, the retaining banister having been removed by the tenant, fell sideways into the open plan area beside the staircase causing severe spraining to his ankle. Mr Hannon subsequently issued a claim against Hillingdon in negligence and under the Defective Property Act 1972 ('DPA').
In respect of Hillingdon's liability under the DPA, HHJ Thornton QC considered the sub-issue of whether the banisters were deemed part of the 'structure' of the property. He referred to the case of Hastie v City of Edinburgh District Council (1981) wherein Sheriff Ireland QC had stated,
"The structure of a house is that part of it which gives it stability, shape and identity as a house… There is no reason why the elements comprising the structure of a house should be the same in every house… On the other hand "the structure of the house" (on the assumption that "structure" and "house" are not identical terms) implies that there are parts of the house which are not parts of the structure of the house. Windows seem to me to fall into this category."
HHJ Thornton QC followed this line of reasoning by making reference to the property in question, being a two-story house with an interconnecting staircase. He found that the staircase was therefore an essential feature of the house. He then went on to consider the banister itself and in doing so referred to Regulation K of the Building Regulations 2000 which states,
"Stairs, ladders and ramps shall be so designed, constructed and installed as to be safe for people or for people moving between different levels in or about the building… Stairs should have a handrail on at least one side if they are less than 1m wide. They should have a handrail on both sides if they are wider."
From this guidance he concluded that as the staircase was more than 1m wide the banister was an integral, and therefore essential, part of the staircase. Accordingly the banister formed part of the structure of the property.
The guidance provided indicates that a 'one version fits all' approach ought not to be undertaken. However, there will be aspects of properties that more commonly will fit the category of 'structure', such as banisters. In addition landlords would be advised to look more carefully at the Building Regulations in seeking to determine their implied repairing liabilities under tenancies.