LEE v LEEDS CITY COUNCIL, Court of Appeal - Civil Division, January 21, 2002, [2002] EWCA Civ 6

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LEE v LEEDS CITY COUNCIL, Court of Appeal - Civil Division, January 21, 2002, [2002] EWCA Civ 6

Case No: B2/2000/3589

B2/2001/2209

Neutral Citation Number [2002] EWCA Civ 06

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF JUDICATURE

COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)

ON APPEAL FROM LEEDS COUNTY COURT

(His Honour Judge Milford QC)

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

21/01/02

Before :

LORD JUSTICE CHADWICK

LORD JUSTICE TUCKEY

and

SIR MURRAY STUART-SMITH

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Between :

RATCLIFFE & ORS Appellants

- and -

SANDWELL METROPOLITAN BOROUGH

COUNCIL Respondents

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(Transcript of the Handed Down Judgment of

Smith Bernal Reporting Limited, 190 Fleet Street

London EC4A 2AG

Tel No: 020 7421 4040, Fax No: 020 7831 8838

Official Shorthand Writers to the Court)

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Mr Kim Lewison QC & Mr S Knafler (instructed by Ward Dewhurst, Birmingham) for the Appellants in Lee and Ratcliffe & ors in the first and second appeals

Mr Andrew Arden QC, Mr C Baker & Mr C Dodd (instructed by Leeds City Council) for the Respondents in the first appeal

Mr Andrew Arden QC & Mr C Baker (instructed by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council) for the Respondents in the second appeal

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Judgment

As Approved by the Court

Crown Copyright ©

Lord Justice Chadwick :

1. These two appeals raise the familiar issue whether a local authority is under any, and if so what, obligation to a tenant or occupier of a dwelling house let as part of its housing stock in circumstances where the dwelling house is or has become unsuitable for occupation by reason of condensation, damp and mould caused by some defect in design. The appellants invite the Court to revisit that issue in the light of provisions contained in the Human Rights Act 1998.

2. The factual position in each of the present appeals is indistinguishable from that described by the Law Commission in the first paragraph of its report Landlord and Tenant: Responsibility for State and Condition of Property (1996) (Law Com No 238):

"An unemployed council house tenant in Pontypridd found that his council house was virtually uninhabitable because of condensation. This was attributable to a defect in the design of the property. The tenant's furniture, carpets, curtains and decorations were ruined by the damp. Although the landlord was under an implied statutory obligation to repair the structure and exterior of the premises, it was not liable for the tenant's loss, nor could it be compelled to remedy the defect. This was because the design defect did not constitute in law a "disrepair" for which it was responsible under its implied obligation."

The footnote to that paragraph identifies the facts described as those in Quick v Taff Ely Borough Council [1986] QB 809 - a decision of this Court.

The absence of any civil remedy in circumstances such as those described by the Law Commission had arisen through a combination of two factors. First, the statutory obligation to ensure that a house let for human habitation is fit for human habitation had come to have little or no application to local authority tenancies. The reason is that that obligation is tied to rent limits which have remained virtually unchanged since 1957. Second, it was held in the Quick case that the statutory obligation of a landlord to keep in repair the structure of a dwelling house did not extend to the rectification of design faults; unless the effect of the design fault was that the structure was out of repair.

Fitness for human habitation

4. A statutory obligation to ensure that premises let for human habitation were fit for that purpose was first imposed, in respect of tenancies at low or modest rents, by section 12 of the Housing for the Working Classes Act 1885. The Act extended to certain unfurnished lettings a condition which, some eight years earlier, the courts had been ready to imply in relation to furnished lettings - see Wilson v Finch Hatton (1877) 2 ExD 336. The obligation, ...

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