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Injury or damage caused by negligence

A person might be able to make a court claim if they are injured or experience damage to belongings as a result of negligence in housing conditions.

This content applies to England

What is negligence?

A person is negligent if they:

  • fail to do something that a reasonable person would have done

  • do something that no reasonable person would have done

Negligence is a common law tort. There is a general duty to not cause injury or damage because of careless or negligent behaviour. It applies where the damage or injury is foreseeable and reasonable care is not taken.

A duty of care is where someone has a legal obligation to avoid acts that could foreseeably harm others and lead to a claim in negligence.

Court action for negligence can succeed if the affected person can show that:[1]

  • a duty of care is owed to them

  • the duty of care has been breached

  • the breach resulted in personal injury or damage to property

In the absence of injury or damage, there must be a well-founded fear that a property is dangerous.[2]

The person who has breached their duty of care can be liable to pay compensation.

When a landlord is negligent carrying out works to a property

A landlord has a general duty to take reasonable care when carrying out work to a property to avoid damage to the property or injury to the occupier.[3] The landlord should use reasonable materials to ensure work done is effective.[4]

A landlord who acts negligently can be liable to pay compensation if their action or omission causes injury or damage.

When a landlord is negligent

A landlord might be negligent if they are responsible for repairs and they either carry out insufficient work or fail to act. It applies where damage or injury is foreseeable and the landlord does not take reasonable care. For example, a failure to properly treat an infestation.

A landlord was negligent when they failed to secure a broken window and a burglar gained entry to the property.[5] A local authority was liable for damage caused to a property by trees it was responsible for. The authority had failed to prune the trees and the damage from subsidence was reasonably foreseeable.[6]

Negligence and common parts

A landlord is liable for the parts of the premises over which they retain control. This includes common parts if there is injury as a result of dangerous defects or disrepair that the landlord negligently fails to make safe.[7]

For example, a landlord might be negligent if they fail to:

  • prevent dampness getting into a flat[8]

  • take reasonable care to keep lifts in a tower block in working order[9]

  • prevent communal water supply pipes from bursting, resulting in damage to a tenant's property[10]

A landlord was negligent when they failed to maintain an entrance path to sheltered housing resulting in injuries to a visitor, despite employing a manager and a caretaker and having a scheme of regular inspections[11]

A local authority which took reasonable measured to secure a vacant flat was not liable when a downstairs flat was flooded because of burglars entering the vacant flat.[12]

A landowner did not owe a duty of care to a tree surgeon who fell off a tree on the land while working for an independent contractor.[13]

Making a claim

A person should seek legal representation if they wish to make a court claim.

The Law Society website has a find a solicitor tool.

Negligent construction or design work

A builder is liable if they build a property negligently and it causes:[14]

  • damage to the property

  • personal injury to the occupiers of the property

A landlord is liable if they are also the builder.[15] A developer, architect or engineer is liable if their work is negligent and results in personal injury or damage to property.

A local authority can be liable if the injury or damage has arisen from its negligent failure to check work plans for the site or to enforce building regulations.[16] In one case, a local authority was found negligent for the design and building of a flat with a panel of thin glass in an internal wall that broke and injured the tenant.[17]

The liability includes defects that cause harm with no warning.

Surveyors and valuations of properties

A property surveyor owes a duty of care to a mortgage lender to prepare a survey report with skill and care. This duty extends to the buyer of the property who relies on the report when deciding whether to proceed with the purchase and cover economic loss.[18]

This duty of care only applies when the transaction involves ordinary domestic householders purchasing their homes without requesting an independent survey. It does not apply to commercial transactions, such as buy-to-let, where it is reasonable to expect buyers to obtain their own independent advice.[19]

Making a claim

A person should seek legal representation if they wish to make a court claim.

The Law Society website has a find a solicitor tool.

Occupier's duty of care to visitors

An occupier has a duty of care to a visitor to the property to ensure they are reasonably safe. The applies to the purposes for which the occupier invites or permits a visitor to be on the premises.[20] The liability is to the visitor and their property.

The occupier's duty of care extends to people present at the premises to exercise a legal duty, even if the occupier has not expressly permitted them to be there.[21]

Who is an occupier

An occupier is a person with a sufficient degree of control over a premises where their failure to use care might result in injury to a visitor. This included tenants. There can be multiple occupiers if more than one person has sufficient control.[22] An occupier does not have to live in the premises.

An occupier does not have to be the legal owner, but owners are considered to have a degree of control over the property and are usually regarded as occupiers.[23]

What is the occupier's duty

The occupier must:[24]

  • have regard to any known vulnerability or disability of a visitor

  • take into account the fact that different visitors may require different standards of care, for example, children might be less careful than adults

In order to meet their duty, an occupier must either:

  • eliminate the risk of injury or damage to the visitor

  • warn the visitor about the risk

When the occupier is in breach of their duty of care

The liability occurs where there is injury to someone or actual damage to the property. It does not cover economic loss caused by the negligence, such as a reduction in the value of a property where a defect has been discovered.[25]

The High Court found that an occupier who knew about the visitor's disability and left a window open resulting in the visually impaired visitor's fall was in breach of their duty of care.[26]

Occupier's duty to people other than visitors

An occupier has a duty to other people, such as a trespasser, if the occupier:[27]

  • is aware of the danger or has reasonable grounds to believe that it exists  

  • knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that the person is in or may come into the vicinity of the danger 

  • may reasonably be expected to offer some protection against the danger 

The liability is to the person and not damage to the person’s property. 

The danger must be due to the state of the premises and not the person's activity.[28] The problem must also have been reasonably foreseeable.[29]

In a case where a tenant sustained injuries falling through a skylight while dancing on the garage roof, the landlord was found not to owe a duty of care. The garage was not included in the tenancy agreement and the tenant had never received permission to go on to the roof. The tenant was trespassing on the garage roof and the danger had arisen from their activity rather than the state of the premises.[30]

Other remedies available

Negligence claims are usually brought in addition to claims under section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 or other repair and safety legislation.

The Defective Premises Act can be used to support claims for breach of contract or negligence.

Repairs under section 11

A landlord has a duty to fix disrepair where they are liable under section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

Find out more about a landlord's repair responsibilities.

Fitness for human habitation

A landlord has a duty to deal with hazards that make a property unfit for habitation. These do not have to be caused by disrepair.

Find out more about a landlord's fitness for human habitation obligations.

Defective premises

The Defective Premises Act 1972 imposes a duty of care on landlords and people involved with constructing or working on a dwelling. An affected person can make a court claim for breach of a duty under the Act if:

  • they suffer injury or property damage caused by a landlord's failure to fix relevant defects in a property

  • a dwelling is unfit for human habitation due to construction or repair defects

Find out more about defective premises.

Last updated: 22 June 2023


  • [1]

    for example, Lugay v Hammersmith and Fulham LBC [2017] EWHC 1823 (QB).

  • [2]

    Sharpe v Manchester Metropolitan DC (1982) 5 HLR 71.

  • [3]

    Birmingham Development Co Ltd v Tyler [2008] EWCA Civ 859.

  • [4]

    AC Billings & Son v Riden [1957] 3 All ER 1.

  • [5]

    Nolan v Liverpool CC [1988] unreported.

  • [6]

    Robbins v Bexley LBC [2012] EWHC 2257 (TCC); see also Berent v (1) Family Mosaic Housing (2) Islington LBC [2012] EWCA Civ 961.

  • [7]

    Taylor v Liverpool Corporation [1939] 3 All ER 329; Cunard v Antifyre Ltd [1933] 1 KB 551.

  • [8]

    Cockburn v Smith [1924] 2 KB 119.

  • [9]

    Liverpool CC v Irwin [1976] 2 All ER 39.

  • [10]

    Stockley v Knowsley MBC [1986] 279 EG 677 , CA.

  • [11]

    Butcher v Southend-on-Sea BC [2014] EWCA Civ 1556.

  • [12]

    King v Liverpool CC (1986) 18 HLR 307, CA.

  • [13]

    Yates v National Trust [2014] EWHC 222 (QB).

  • [14]

    Murphy v Brentwood DC (1990) 3 WLR 414, HL.

  • [15]

    Batty v Metropolitan Property Realisations Ltd. [1978] 2 All ER 445, CA.

  • [16]

    Murphy v Brentwood DC (1990) 22 HLR 502, HL.

  • [17]

    Rimmer v Liverpool CC (1984) 12 HLR 23.

  • [18]

    Smith v Eric S Bush (A Firm) [1990] UKHL 1.

  • [19]

    Scullion v Bank of Scotland Plc (t/a Colleys) [2011] EWCA Civ 693.

  • [20]

    s.2(2) Occupiers' Liability Act 1957. 

  • [21]

    s.2(6) Occupiers' Liability Act 1957.

  • [22]

    Wheat v E Lacon & Co Ltd [1966] A.C. 552.

  • [23]

    Harris v Birkenhead [1976] 1 WLR 279.

  • [24]

    s.2(3) Occupiers' Liability Act 1957.

  • [25]

    Ryan v London Borough of Camden (1982) 8 HLR 75.

  • [26]

    Pollock v Cahill [2015] EWHC 2260 (QB).

  • [27]

    s.1 Occupiers’ Liability Act 1984. 

  • [28]

    s.1 Occupiers' Liability Act 1984; Siddorn v Patel & Anor [2007] EWHC 1248 (QB); Buckett (a protected party by his mother & litigation friend Amanda Buckett) v Staffordshire CC [2015] QBD Case No 3SQ 90263.

  • [29]

    Ryan v London Borough of Camden (1982) 8 HLR 75.

  • [30]

    Siddorn v Patel & Anor [2007] EWHC 1248, QBD.