Landlord’s liability for his tenant’s nuisance

In Coventry v Lawrence (No 2) ([2014] UKSC 46) one question was whether a landlord was liable for its tenant’s nuisance (see Coventry v Lawrence). Lord Neuberger (with whom Lord Clarke and Lord Sumption agreed) took as his starting point the statement of Lord Millett in Southwark LBC v Mills that:

‘The person or persons directly responsible for the activities in question are liable; but so too is anyone who authorised them. Landlords have been held liable for nuisances committed by their tenants on this basis. It is not enough for them to be aware of the nuisance and take no steps to prevent it. They must either participate directly in the commission of the nuisance, or they must be taken to have authorised it by letting the property: see Malzy v Eichholz [1916] 2 KB 308 .’ ([2001] 1 AC 1 at 22).

Did the letting amount to an authorisation of the nuisance?

The letting itself did not amount to an authorisation since the nuisance was not an inevitable result of the letting ([15]).

Had the landlord actively or directly participated in the nuisance?

This is largely a question of fact ([19]). Did the landlord’s leading role in trying to prevent the local authority from taking action in respect of the noise and in defending the nuisance claim amount to participation? This was not the case since this was a justified measure taken by the landlord to protect the value of his reversion ([24]).

Dissenting on this issue, Lord Carnwath and Lord Mance thought that the landlord’s role did amount to participation in the nuisance:

‘What is required in my view is a broad, common-sense judgment, based on the facts as a whole, as to whether there was such active involvement by the landlord in the offending activities as to make him jointly responsible in law for their consequences.’ ([59]).

He was of the view that the landlord’s actions amounted to ‘active encouragement of the tenants’ use and direct participation in the measures and negotiations to enable it to be continued. ‘ ([64]).

Michael Lower




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