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Lawbite: Landlords’ duties to occupiers

  • United Kingdom
  • Litigation and dispute management
  • Real estate
  • Real estate litigation - LawBite


Essex County Council, Havering College of Further and Higher Education, The Governing Body of Sawyers Hall College v Davies and others [2019] EWHC 3443

A recent High Court case has reaffirmed the well-established rule that a landlord does not owe a duty of care to its tenant or its tenant’s visitors at common law or under the Occupiers Liability Act 1957 (“OLA 1957”). Any potential cause of action against a landlord in tort would need to be made under s.4 of the Defective Premises Act 1972.

Former employees of the Havering College of Further and Higher Education (the “College”) had suffered injuries on the College’s premises arising out of carbon monoxide poisoning.  The College occupied two floors of a building under a lease.  The Governing Body of Sawyers Hall College were its landlords until 2012 when it sold its interest to Essex County Council (together the “Landlords”).  The Landlords operated a grant maintained school in the remaining parts of the building.

The former employees brought a claim for damages in the Central London County Court (“CLCC”) against the College and the Landlords under the OLA 1957.  The CLCC found that the College and the Landlords were “occupiers” for the purpose of the OLA 1957 and damages were awarded to the former employees.

On appeal, however, the High Court held that the First Instance Judge had been wrong in deciding that the Landlords were “occupiers”.  Instead it should have followed the well-known and binding principle resulting from the 1906 case of Cavalier v Pope, which provides that a landlord does not owe a duty of care at common law or under the OLA 1957 to its tenant or visitors of its tenant.  This is the case even where a landlord undertakes to maintain a premises (as in this case).

Accordingly, the claim against the two landlords were dismissed.

Key points

  • Under the OLA 1957, an occupier of property owes a common law duty of care to all his visitors in respect of dangers due to the state of the premises or to things done or omitted to be done on them
  • A landlord who lets premises to a tenant is treated as having parted with control of the premises, even if the landlord undertakes to maintain the demised premises and makes regular use of his rights to enter and maintain the premises
  • The CLCC had tried to distinguish the Cavalier v Pope case in part on the basis that that case involved residential premises whereas this case involved a large commercial site but the High Court made it clear that the rule applies regardless of use
  • In circumstances such as these, where there is no contractual relationship between a claimant and the landlord, the claimant should consider other actions, for example under the Defective Premises Act 1972