Wednesday, 27 July 2011

LandlordLaw: Can landlords be liable to neighbours for tenants from Hell?

Regulating the private rented sector is key to improving public service in housing. Given that 50% of residents living in the PRS in Hyndburn are recipients of Housing Benefit (Local Housing Allowance) it's time the tax payer got value for money.

Regulation seems unlikely with the current Conservative led government but what about the tax paying home owner facing neighbours from hell living in rented property.

LandlordLaw have published an interesting article laying the ground for potential legal remedy to absent landlords with anti-social tenants.

Can landlords be liable to neighbours for tenants from Hell?
Written on March 2, 2011 by Tessa Shepperson in Analysis

Not in my back yard please!

The topic of this blog post is similar in many ways to the post I did on Monday about nightmare co-tenants (which has attracted some great comments by the way).

The neighbours from hell

What do you do if you find that the rented property next door to yours suddenly has the tenants from Hell living there? Loud parties every night, screaming and yelling at all hours, piles of empty bottles in the front garden, and your four year old is asking questions about the embarrassing sounds coming through his bedroom wall.

You tell the landlord about the problems you are having, and he does absolutely nothing about it.

In a way you are worse off than the tenant in my ‘problems with other tenants’ post, as it is much easier to move away if you are renting a room, than if you are living in your own home.

The bad news is that you cannot blame or claim against the landlord. One human being cannot be held responsible for the actions of another human being, which is why your wife’s creditors cannot sue you for her debts. So you can’t threaten action against your landlord, if his tenants are giving you grief.

Or can you?

I heard a very interesting talk recently at a CLT Conference, by barrister Alison Meacher. She was discussing the question of landlords liability for the acts of his tenants in the context of the old case of Rylands v. Fletcher.
Rylands v. Fletcher?

As every law student will know, Rylands v. Fletcher is about a landowner being held liable for damage done by something which ‘escapes’ from his land. Can noise and nuisance from tenants which landlords fail to control be considered in this context?

It seems as if in some circumstances a landlord can be held liable in tort (for non lawyers, this is a type of claim in civil law where someone suffers a wrong and can make a claim even though there is no contract). This is where a landlord can be held to have ‘adopted’ a nuisance by failing to take reasonable steps to abate a nuisance caused by his tenant which he is aware, or ought to be aware of.

She looked particular at a case called Octavia Hill Housing v. Brumby and the judgement of Mr Justice Mackay, quoting Lord Atkin in Sedleigh-Denfield v O’Callaghan :

“It seems to me clear that if a man permits an offensive thing on his premises to continue to offend, that is if he knows that it is operating offensively, is able to prevent it and omits to prevent it he is permitting the nuisance to continue; in other words he is continuing it.”

The cases cited by Alison in her talk all related to public sector houses (apart from the Sedleigh case which is about water damage), so I don’t know what the position would be in the private sector.

Does anyone know whether there are any circumstances in which a landlord has been held responsible for his tenants anti social behaviour, for example in circumstances where he has refused to do anything (such as bring proceedings to evict them)? There is I suppose Ribee v. Norrie which is about a a tenant causing damage to a neighbouring property by fire.

However even if there is the possibility of liability, I suspect that it is not going to be a practical solution for outraged neighbours of anti social tenants, any time soon.