Landlords: Are you liable for your tenant's nuisance?
As a landlord, you may think that your tenant is exclusively responsible in all respects for his activities on your property during the term of his lease. You are probably right: however, you should never assume that this will always be the case.
The case of Coventry & Others v Lawrence which recently went to the Supreme Court has helped clarify the position.
The Coventry case concerned tenants who operated a stadium and motor cycle track operation. The owners of the neighbouring land complained about a number of matters. Their complaint, and subsequent claim, was also pursued against the landlord of the stadium on the basis that the landlord had allowed the nuisance to be caused by his tenant.
The law prior to Coventry had, in general terms, established that landlords will only be liable for the nuisance if they have authorised it, either by participating directly in the activity complained of, or by letting the premises where nuisance is the inevitable consequence of the letting. In Coventry, the High Court and Court of Appeal dismissed the claim (although in the Court of Appeal it was decided that there was in fact no nuisance).
However, the Supreme Court decided, contrary to the findings in the Court of Appeal, that the tenant operators of the stadium had committed nuisance. It went on to make its decision on the following basis:
- The landlord had clearly known of the proposed use of the premises which caused the nuisance. However, the Court concluded that this was insufficient for the landlord to be liable: on the facts, it was possible for the use to have been carried out without a nuisance.
- Where a nuisance was inevitable, the covenants in the lease to prohibit nuisance would have been no defence to the claim for nuisance.
- The landlord had not tried to stop or discourage the nuisance and indeed the landlord had even led a fight against abating the nuisance (in relation to which the local authority proposed erecting a hay bale wall at the site). However, it might be said surprisingly on the facts, the Supreme Court decided that such actions did not mean the landlord was “participating” in the nuisance.
The landlord was not therefore liable. Nevertheless, all cases will turn on their own facts. If the landlord had also been the landlord of the complainant’s premises, he would almost certainly have been liable for failing to allow quiet enjoyment to his tenant.
The lesson for a landlord is simple: a landlord should always consider the proposed use of his property by a prospective tenant.
If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this article please contact Christopher Longden who is a member of our Dispute Resolution team and an accredited mediator.