According to government figures, in the first quarter of 2021 33,000 unspecified money claims were made in court, of which 74% were personal injury claims.
Although some of these will have happened in the workplace, others have been prompted by tripping over a loose paving stone or falling whilst in the property.
This can happen in any home at anytime however landlords have duty of care to ensure the tenant remains safe (as possible) whilst in the rental property. With more and more tenants becoming aware of their rights; insurance claims are increasing and so are the teams of so-called ‘No win, No fee’ ambulances chasers.
Although Employers and local authorities are the targets in most of the cases, it’s easy to underestimate the likelihood of a landlord being pursued by an injured tenant in an environment where personal injury litigation is so common.
Just by typing in Google ‘tenant claims against landlord’ will bring up a host of firms ready to start a claim against the landlord so it’s important to know that where evidence is provided by the tenant or their representative, claimants are successful in 90-96% of cases.
Causes of Injury to Tenants
The fact is that if you go into business as a private landlord, the potential liabilities are as long as those of an employer. Even if, in reality, the tenant was careless or reckless with their own safety, with an experienced and clever solicitor on their side, they will often be able to make a very convincing case.
The most common injuries suffered in the home are from falling objects such as:
- items not fixed to the wall – pictures
- unsecured shelving
- falling plaster from damaged or leaking ceilings
Other common causes of injury are slips, trips and fall injuries such as:
- uneven or slippery floor surfaces
- carpet not fixed properly to stair treads
- handrails missing or not secure to bear weight if used
- fingers caught in doors
Finally, injuries suffered in the home can include burns such as:
- scalding water from the hot tap because the boiler or immersion heater is set too high
- poorly maintained heating system that bursts during cold weather
- unguarded fireplaces or electrical heaters
Trips and falls are most likely to occur in bathrooms and showers, on stairs and balconies or if there are split levels on one floor. The most likely people to suffer are the elderly and the very young.
Uneven floor surfaces or carpets that are fraying and lifted can be a source of trips and falls.
This can also include communal areas despite the fact that the landlord may only have a leasehold on their particular property so how do you prove what is within a landlord’s legal responsibility?
Pinpointing who is actually at fault can be extremely difficult.
If, for example, a tenant falls down a flight of stairs where there is no handrail, it’s virtually impossible to prove they were running down, two at a time in a tearing hurry, or that they might not have been in full control of their faculties at the time but the key fact here is that there is no handrail.
Questions, when it comes to the claim, will be surround whether there should be a handrail in place and if so, why was it not installed, and was a risk assessment or Fitness for Human Habitation carried out?
Ambulance chaser is a derogatory term, but sometimes it’s the most appropriate way to refer to the clever solicitor or ‘No win, No fee’ firms who can shift the balance of an incident decisively away from the tenant’s behaviour and load it all onto the landlord.
A visit to the government website will remind landlords of the full extent of your obligations regarding tenant safety. Essentially it is a checklist of every hazard that needs to be eliminated or minimised, including poor heating, damp and mould, fire risks and safe utilities.
These are areas in which compliance is relatively easy to prove by means of regular inspections, certification systems and a fitness for human habitation risk assessment.
Note: Under Section 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) requires employers, such as landlords, to have responsibility for the health and safety of people using or visiting their premises (in addition to their direct responsibility for employees) so far as reasonably practicable (see General Health & Safety requirements).
Poorly lit areas like basements, lofts, communal hallways where lighting is either missing or broken can mean the tenant (and or their visitors) may not see the trip hazard, so any injury claims could be laid against the landlord for failing to rectify these issues or at least minimise the risks.
Electrical dangers are among the most frequent and serious problems.
The wear and tear on electrical installations – even wall sockets and light switches – can be significant, and although the kind of electric shocks that these appliances can deliver are not always harmful in themselves, they are sharp and surprising enough to throw someone completely off -balance and lead to serious injury.
Landlords should make sure that all the electrics in a property are safe and fully functioning at the beginning of a tenancy.
You are obliged to have professional safety checks carried out at least every five years, but in our experience, it is infinitely preferable to test and or carry out a visual inspection much more often.
If you rely on evidence of a 5-yearly check, it may not be sufficient to protect you in the case of significant injury. EICR’s are straightforward to commission by accessing a qualified tradesperson with Worksreams in partnership with Safe2
When we think about personal injury liability, we must also consider the role of insurance. Every responsible landlord will have extensive insurance cover, given the extent of their legal liabilities.
A successful personal injury claim can be ruinous to the finances of a small-scale landlord, so insurance cover is indispensable. However, it’s vital to check every clause in the policy because it will probably include an obligation on the landlord to conduct regular property inspections.
It’s likely that such a clause may insist on something more than the standard format used to monitor inventory, damage, loss, wear and tear. It might specify safety checks beyond electrical and fire risk, which means if a landlord does not adhere to a strict regime, the policy might be invalidated.
Landlords must comply with their legal obligations and also the strict terms of their insurance. The sophistication of modern inventory software is such that it is now much easier to monitor, check, verify and prove that you have discharged your duties.
Landlords are responsible, under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, for carrying out risk assessments for all communal areas. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order requires landlords to carry out fire risk assessments to common parts of blocks of flats
At Inventory Base, we are experts in providing property inspection and reporting providing software solutions to help inventory clerks and landlords gather and keep comprehensive records.
Check-ins, check-outs and interim reports are all important, but ideally, landlords need the facility for incident reporting, as is common in the workplace.
This could even take the form of a self-service function, with tenants alerting landlords to minor mishaps before anything serious occurs.
A recent article by Landlord Today discuss data from Total Landlord Insurance where is references a decline in the proportion of claims paid between 2019 and 2021 that were related to landlord liability insurance – cover for the landlord in the event that a tenant is injured inside the property.
In 2019, landlords submitted liability claims of £44,400, some 68 per cent of which was paid out by the provider. In 2021, however, total liability claims rose to £125,500, of which just 8.6 per cent was actually paid. It’s a similar story with storm damage claims.
It is unclear of the type of injuries being claimed for however evidencing the fault (who is to blame) is why property management software has become an essential tool in the private rented sector.
The addition of simple templates for the recording and evidencing of accidents could provide the kind of certainty that benefits both parties, before and after an event.
There will always be firms of solicitors who can build a persuasive case on behalf of injured clients, but with the digital capabilities offered by Inventory Base, you can even help keep your property safe, tenants happy and perhaps even up the scales of justice.