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Can a landlord be liable for nuisance committed by a tenant?

30 September 2014

A recent case in the Supreme Court helps clarify the limited circumstances in which a landlord can be liable for nuisance committed by a tenant.

The case of Coventry and others v Lawrence and another (No. 2) [2014]  addressed liability for nuisance caused by the operators of a stadium and motor cycle track operation.

It included a claim by the complainants (the occupiers of adjoining land) against the operators' landlord on the basis that the landlord had allowed the nuisance to be committed by its tenant.

The landlord was held not to be liable on the facts of the case and the judgment helps clarify that there are limited circumstances in which such liability will arise.

Previous case law has established that landlords will not be liable for their tenant's nuisance unless they have authorised it, either by participating directly in the commission of the nuisance or by letting the property in circumstances where the nuisance is an inevitable consequence of the letting.

The High Court initially dismissed the nuisance claim against the landlord following those established principles. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court's decision, but on the basis that there was no nuisance, so it did not need to consider the landlord's liability.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court held that the operators of the stadium and motor cycle track had committed nuisance. The question of the landlord's liability was re-opened and the court considered the following in reaching its decision.

When the landlord entered into the letting, was it inevitable that the tenant's use would result in a nuisance to neighbouring occupiers?

  • The landlord had known of the intended use, which had in fact resulted in nuisance. 
  • The Supreme Court concluded that such circumstances were not sufficient to make the landlord liable for the nuisance. The use could have been carried on without a nuisance arising.
  • If the nuisance had been inevitable, tenant covenants against nuisance in the lease would not have affected whether or not the landlord was liable.

Had the landlord "actively" or "directly" participated in the nuisance?

  • The landlord's actions were considered by the Supreme Court, including that the landlord had not taken any steps to stop or discourage the tenant from continuing the nuisance complained of, had helped and indeed led the fight against the risk of nuisance abatement by the local authority and had tried to mitigate the nuisance (by erecting a hay-bale wall around the site).
  • The Court concluded, by a majority, that such actions did not amount to the landlord participating in the nuisance.

On the facts of the case, the landlord was held not to be liable for the tenant's nuisance.

However, landlords should bear in mind that the outcome could have been different if the complainants were also tenants of the landlord in adjoining premises.

In that scenario, where the second tenant is entitled to quiet enjoyment under the terms of his lease, the landlord could be held to have derogated from its grant and be in breach of covenant. 

Before granting a lease of part of its holding, therefore, a landlord should still consider whether the proposed use could reasonably be expected to cause a nuisance to the other tenants.

This article was written by Mark Smith.

For more information please contact Mark on +44 (0)20 7427 6722 or mark.smith@crsblaw.com.