Archive for the ‘leases’ Category

Meaning of covenant to reinstate to ‘bare shell’ condition

September 19, 2022

AFH Hong Kong Stores Ltd v Fulton Corporation Ltd ([2022] HKCA 1243) concerned the interpretation of a tenant’s covenant to reinstate the demised premises to a ‘bare shell’ state on the determination of the lease.

The premises were retail premises over five floors of a building in the Central district of Hong Kong. When it took possession, the tenant removed the entire floor slab of one of the floors and part of the floor slab of three others. It installed lifts and staircases.

The lease required the tenant to yield up the premises to the landlord at the end of the lease, ‘in a “bare shell” good clean state of repair and condition on each floor of the Premises to the reasonable satisfaction of the Landlord’ (emphasis added).

The landlord contended that this wording required the tenant to reinstate the floor slabs it had removed while the tenant argued that it was under no such obligation.

There was, perhaps surprisingly if reinstatement had been intended, no express covenant to reinstate the removed floor slabs in the lease nor, so far as can be seen in the judgment, in any license to carry out the alterations.

There was, by contrast, a clause that gave the landlords the option to require the tenant to remove fixtures that the tenant added to the demised premises.

The Court of Appeal referred to the principles of contractual interpretation in the Court of Final Appeal in Eminent Investments (Asia Pacific) Ltd v DIO Corp ([2020] HKCFA 38).

It decided that the reference to ‘on each floor’ supported the landlord’s contention that the tenant had to reinstate the floor slabs that had been removed ([26.1] and [43]).

Michael Lower


Covid restrictions, leases and failure of basis

October 31, 2021

London Trocadero (2015) LLP v Picturehouse Cinemas Ltd ([2021] EWHC 2591 (Ch)) concerned a claim that a tenant of premises let as a cinema was relieved from the obligation to pay rent in respect of periods when lockdown restrictions meant that the cinema had to be closed down.

The claim was based on an alleged implied term and on the argument that there was a failure of basis during the lockdown periods. The tenant did not argue that the lease was frustrated.


The lease in question specified that the property could only be used as a cinema. There was a keep open clause requiring the tenant to operate the cinema throughout the lease term. It also contained a clause to the effect that the landlord gave no warranty that the demised premises could lawfully be used as a cinema.

The implied term argument

The tenant argued that there was an implied term that the obligation to pay rent was suspended in respect of periods when it was illegal to use the premises as a cinema and / or the level of trade was below that anticipated by the parties when the lease was granted ([55]).

The judge (Robin Vos sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court) adopted Carr LJ’s summary of the law of implied terms in Yoo Design Services Limited v Iliv Realty Pte Limited ([2021] EWCA Civ 560 at [61]).

The suggested implied terms were not ‘so obvious that they go without saying’ nor ‘necessary to give the leases business efficacy’ ([67]). The implied terms would impose a commercial risk on the landlord and there was no reason for the court to intervene in this way ([72] and [75]).

The fact that the lease expressly provided there was no warranty that the premises could lawfully be used as a cinema cast further doubt on the argument for an implied term ([78]). Similarly, the clause for suspension of rent could have been made to apply to this situation but did not ([79]).

The second part of the suggested implied term was too uncertain ([80]).

The failure of basis argument

The following explanation of the elements of a failure of basis claim was explained:

‘a benefit has been conferred on the joint understanding that the recipient’s right to retain it is conditional. If the condition is not fulfilled, the recipient must return the benefit. The condition might take one of a variety of forms. For instance, it might consist in the recipient doing or giving something in return for the benefit … Alternatively, the condition might be the existence of a state of affairs, or the occurrence of an event, for which the recipient has undertaken no responsibility.’

(Goff and Jones, The Law of Unjust Enrichment, (9th ed) at [12-01])

Failure must be total (Fibrosa Spolka Akcyjna v Fairbairn Lawson Combe Barbour Limited [1943] AC 32 at [77] per Lord Porter).

Where there is a subsisting contract, the claim must be consistent with the terms of the contract and must not interfere with the contractual allocation of risk between the parties (Dargamo Holdings Limited v Avonwick Holding Limited [2021] EWCA Civ 1149).

The failure of basis claim failed here because the use of the premises as a cinema was not fundamental to the basis of the lease. The clause providing that the landlord did not warrant that the premises could lawfully be used as a cinema was important in reaching this conclusion ([123]) as was the fact that the suspension of rent clause was not triggered by the lockdown restrictions ([130]). The failure of basis claim would be inconsistent with the terms of the lease ([132]).

Use as a cinema could be fundamental, it depends on the terms of the lease ([126]). The claim could not be defeated just by the argument that the tenant still had possession of the premises ([137]).

That said:

‘the default position is that, in the case of a lease, an inability to use premises for the intended purpose is unlikely to constitute a failure of basis as it may be relevant to the presumed allocation of risk between the parties. However, there can be no general rule. Each case will depend on its own facts.’ ([141]).

Since failure of basis has to be total, the claim could only succeed if the lease was severable. The argument could then be made that there was a total failure of basis in respect of those periods during which the premises could not be used as a cinema.

The lease could be severed in this way. The lease provided for an apportionment of rent for other purposes and this supported a similar severability for this purpose ([158]). If the failure of basis claim was available, the lease could be severed ([159]).

Michael Lower

When does a landlord have right to serve a CPO s. 58 notice?

July 14, 2020

In Toms v Ruberry ([2019] EWCA Civ 128) the forfeiture clause in a lease required the landlord to serve notice of default on the tenant. The notice of default was to identify the breaches in question and to give the tenant 14 days to remedy (if the breach was capable of remedy). If the breaches were not remedied by the end of the 14 day period, the landlord could forfeit the lease.

The tenant broke a number of lease covenants. On 25 February 2016, the landlord served on the tenant both a notice of default and a notice under the English equivalent of section 58 of the Conveyancing and Property Ordinance (Law of Property Act, s. 146).

The question was whether the section 146 notice could validly be served before the expiry of the 14 day period specified in the notice of default.

The landlord argued that the section 146 notice was valid. To require the 14 day notice period to expire without the breaches being remedied before the section 146 notice could be served would be to prolong the process unnecessarily; the tenant would have two opportunities to remedy the breaches.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the tenant that the right to forfeit only arose if the 14 day notice period expired and the breaches were not remedied.

Michael Lower

Exclusive possession and property guardians

February 21, 2020

In Camelot Guardian Management Ltd v Khoo ([2018] EWHC 2296) the court had to consider whether an agreement with a ‘property guardian’ created a lease or a licence.


Westminster City Council (‘the council’) appointed Camelot Guardian Management Ltd (‘CGML’) to provide security services in respect of a temporarily empty office building (‘the property’). This agreement envisaged that CGML would grant licences to suitable guardians and carry out regular inspections of the property until the council wanted it back.

CGML entered into an agreement (‘the agreement’) with Mr Khoo giving him the right to occupy a room in the property.

The agreement had a number of features designed to emphasise that it created a licence and was not a tenancy:

  1.  it was headed ‘licence agreement’;
  2.  it included an ‘important note’ emphasising that Mr Khoo would share the property with others;
  3.  it recorded CGML’s agreement with the council concerning the property;
  4.  Mr Khoo could choose a room but could be required to move to another room by CGML;
  5.  Mr Khoo could change the room he used but had to notify CGML of the change;
  6.  Mr. Khoo could not have visitors stay overnight.

In August 2017 the council gave notice to CGML that it would shortly require the property back. CGML served notice to determine Mr. Khoo’s licence. Mr. Khoo refused to move out and claimed to be an assured shorthold tenant. It was agreed that if Mr Khoo was a tenant then he was an assured shorthold tenant and the claim for possession should be dismissed.

Legal analysis

Butcher J. explained that after  Street v Mountford ([1985] 1 AC 809) the court had to consider whether, properly interpreted, the agreement conferred exclusive possession on the occupier.

Construction of the agreement involves looking at the words used in the light of the relevant background. The court should be astute to detect a sham: it should be alert to the possibility that the words used were a dishonest attempt to mislead as to the true substance of the agreement between the parties. When considering the question of a sham the court was entitled to look at how the parties behaved after the agreement was reached.

Butcher J concluded that Mr Khoo did not have exclusive possession and was not a tenant.

The terms described above all pointed in this direction. CGML’s agreement with the council and its underlying purpose were part of the relevant background ([28] – [29]). The circumstances surrounding the agreement (the language used in the website and the fact that Mr Khoo was shown a particular room) were part of the background but did not detract from the conclusion that this was a licence.

On the idea of a sham, Butcher J. observed that:

it has to be borne in mind that not every departure from the terms of a contract and how it is operated indicates that the relevant agreement was a pretence when entered into. Furthermore, the fact that a contractual right is not exercised does not of itself mean that it ceases to exist. The relevant party may be entitled subsequently to insist on its performance nevertheless’ ([33]).

There was no sham, no ‘element of dishonesty’ here ([34] – [36]).

Michael Lower



‘Exclusive possession’ and property operated by charities

February 19, 2020

In Watts v Stewart ([2016] EWCA Civ 1247) Ashtead United Charity (‘Ashstead’) owned almshouses. Its governing instrument provided that the persons selected to occupy an almshouse had to be chosen from among ‘poor single women of not less than 50 years of age who are inhabitants of the ancient parish of Ashstead’. Mrs. Watts was given the right to occupy one of the almshouses.

Ashstead’s governing instrument empowered Ashtead to ‘set aside the appointment of any resident who in their opinion –

(a) persistently or without reasonable excuse either disregards the regulations for the residents or disturbs the quiet occupation of the almshouses or otherwise behaves vexatiously or offensively’.

Ashtead’s agreement with Mrs Watts provided that she could be removed for ‘serious misconduct’.

Ashstead sought to evict Mrs Watts because of her admitted misconduct. The English Court of Appeal heard Mrs Watts’ appeal against the order for eviction made at first instance. Sir Terence Etherton MR delivered the Court of Appeal’s judgment.

Exclusive possession

Mrs. Watts argued that she was not a licensee but was at first a tenant at will and, once she began to make rent payments, a periodic tenant. The question was whether she had exclusive possession.

The Court of Appeal distinguished between the ‘legal exclusive possession’ of the tenant and the ‘personal right of exclusive occupation’ of licensees such as lodgers ([31]).

The court pointed to a number of provisions in Ashtead’s governing instrument which pointed away from an intention to grant legal exclusive possession. This provided that residents would not be tenants, could be required to leave, could only have visitors stay with them with Ashstead’s consent, could not leave the almshouse empty for more than 28 days in any year without consent and could be required to leave on the grounds of serious misconduct ([39]).

There was no hint that these terms could be regarded as ‘sham’ ([40]). Rather:

‘the Trustees could only properly discharge the trusts of the Charity, which limited its objects to those in need, hardship or distress, if a personal revocable licence was granted (which could be revoked if, for example, the occupier no longer became qualified under the Scheme because they became wealthy). ([40]).

A little later the court said:

‘The status of a beneficiary occupying trust property will depend upon the terms and conditions on which the occupation was permitted.’ ([45])

The terms of the governing instrument are an important part of the context for the purposes of the interpretation of the agreement.

Mrs. Watts had a personal licence to occupy the property. She did not have ‘legal exclusive possession’ and was not a tenant ([46]).

Michael Lower



Fundamental importance of the right to apply for relief from forfeiture: Golding v Martin

June 22, 2019

In Golding v Martin ([2019] EWCA Civ 446), the tenant of a long lease of a flat failed to pay a service charge reserved as rent. The landlord brought forfeiture proceedings and was awarded possession. The landlord gave the flat to his daughter and she sold it. The tenant, who lived in Spain, found out what had happened and sought to have the order set aside. The Court of Appeal set the order aside on the grounds that the County Court did not have power to make the order in the terms in which it had been made.

Section 138(3) of the County Courts Act 1984 specifies the form of the order that the County Court can make. The order for possession may not take effect within four weeks from the date of the order nor may it be unconditional. The order made in the present case was an immediate unconditional order.

The point was raised for the first time on appeal but this was one of those exceptional cases in which this was permissible since it went to the jurisdiction of the County Court (Pittalis v Grant [1989] QB 605).

The point was ‘no mere technicality’ since, ‘Where the forfeiture of a long (and potentially valuable) lease is in issue it is plainly of the utmost importance that the lessee be given the right to pay.’ ([20]).

The landlord argued for an alternative interpretation of section 138 which would have meant that the County Court had no right to grant relief from forfeiture in cases of non-payment of rent.

The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, emphasising the fundamental importance of the right to grant relief:

‘it is in our judgment inconceivable to imagine that Parliament could have intended that an important safeguard for tenants should be completely by-passed in the event of a sumamry disposal of a claim to forfeit on the ground of non-payment of rent. To attribute such an intention to Parliament would be to attribute to it an intention to legislate for an irrational scheme.‘ ([31]) (emphasis added).

Michael Lower

Frustration of leases: Brexit and illegality

April 23, 2019


This is the second post about Canary Wharf (BP4) T1 Ltd v European Medicines Agency ([2019] EWHC 335) in which Marcus Smith J considered the claim of the European Medicines Agency (‘the EMA’) that Brexit (should it occur) would be an event that would frustrate the EMA’s lease of its office premises in Canary Wharf.

The first post outlined the facts and Marcus Smith J’s account of the doctrine of frustration. This post looks at the EMA’s argument that performing its obligations under the lease would be illegal after Brexit and that the lease was frustrated on that account.

The EMA’s argument on illegality

Marcus Smith J explained that:

‘The EMA’s contention that the Lease was frustrated by supervening illegality, taken at its highest, involved the proposition that, after withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, it would no longer be lawful for the EMA to pay rent to CW pursuant to the Lease. The payment of rent would be unlawful because the EMA would – in paying rent – be acting ultra vires or without capacity’ ([96]).

Essential points about supervening illegality

The earlier post outlined Marcus Smith J’s account of the law on supervening illegality. Briefly:

  • illegality arising under foreign law does not frustrate a contract;
  • ‘for supervening illegality to frustrate, it must remove all or substantially all of the benefit that one party receives from the contract.’ ([195])
  • the frustration must not be self-induced.

Assumptions favourable to the EMA’s case

Marcus Smith J. assessed the EMA’s case on the following assumptions:

  • that illegality under foreign law was relevant to frustration under English law;
  • that, following Brexit, it was ultra vires the EMA, and therefore illegal, for it to continue to perform its obligations under the lease.

London and Northern Estates Company v. Schlesinger

Marcus Smith J referred to the Court of Appeal decision in London and Northern Estates Company v. Schlesinger ([1916] 1 KB 20) where an Austrian subject took a lease of a flat. When war broke out, restrictions were introduced prohibiting enemy aliens from living in the area in which the flat was located. The Court of Appeal held that this supervening illegality did not frustrate the lease.

Marcus Smith J commented:

‘the primary basis for the decisions of Avory and Lush JJ is illuminating: for supervening illegality to frustrate, it must remove all or substantially all of the benefit that one party receives from the contract. Thus, Avory and Lush JJ both stressed that not only did the lease continue, but also that the defendant was entitled to sub-let or indeed lend the flat to his friends. In short, the fact that the defendant was himself precluded from occupying the flat was not nearly enough to render the lease frustrated.’ ([195])

Application to this case

If it were accepted that the supervening illegality deprived the EMA of any ability to use the premises then the lease would be frustrated. For this to be true, it would need to be the case that it was ultra vires the EMA to occupy, assign, sub-let or share possession of the property ([198] – [199]). The lease would also be frustrated if it were assumed that EMA’s payment of the rent was ultra vires ([200]). Making these assumptions (and that illegality under foreign law is relevant) then Brexit did frustrate the lease.

Self-induced frustration

Even if the supervening illegality did frustrate the lease it is still relevant to ask whether the frustration is self-induced.

Marcus Smith J explained:

‘When considering whether there has been a frustrating event, it is quite clear that the courts consider the conduct of the party alleging frustration broadly and ask the broad question of whether the supervening event was something beyond that party’s control or within it. “Self-induced frustration” is something of a misnomer. It is simply a reference to post-contractual events and actions which indicate that certain options – that might have ameliorated the frustrating event – have been closed off by the acts or omissions of the party claiming frustration.’ ([206])

Here the frustration was self-induced:

‘(3) The fact is – as evidenced by the provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement – that the European Union could have done more than simply baldly ordering the relocation of the EMA (by way of the 2018 Regulation) and focussing only on the progress of the establishment of the EMA’s new headquarters in Amsterdam (which is what the 2018 Regulation does). The 2018 Regulation could have gone further, regarding the winding down of the EMA’s position in the United Kingdom. It could, for example, have included provisions along the lines of Article 119 of the Withdrawal Agreement.’ ([206])

The EU’s failure to confer capacity on the EMA to make use of the right to assign or sub-let the lease was a choice that it had made. It was this choice that gave rise to such illegality as existed. The lease is not frustrated by this illegality ([207]).

Michael Lower





Brexit and the doctrine of frustration

March 31, 2019


In Canary Wharf (BP4) T1 Ltd v European Medicines Agency ([2019] EWHC 335) Marcus Smith J considered the claim of the European Medicines Agency (‘the EMA’) that Brexit (should it occur) would be an event that would frustrate the EMA’s lease of its office premises in Canary Wharf.

Marcus Smith J first considered the juridical basis of the doctrine of frustration. He then  considered whether either a ‘No Deal Brexit’ or Brexit under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the British Government and the European Union would frustrate the lease.

This blog post outlines the general discussion of the law of frustration. A second blog post will look at how Marcus Smith J. applied the law to the facts of this case.

Brief outline of the facts of the case

Canary Wharf granted EMA a lease of office premises in Canary Wharf (‘the premises’) for a term of 25 years from 21 October 2014. The EMA could assign or sub-let the premises, subject to compliance with the provisions in the alienation clause in the lease.

The EMA wrote to Canary Wharf on 2 August 2017 informing Canary Wharf that, ‘when Brexit occurs, we will be treating the event as a frustration of the lease’. Canary Wharf sought a declaration that Brexit (the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union) would not cause the lease to be frustrated.

The doctrine of frustration

‘The doctrine of frustration operates to bring a contract prospectively to an end because of the effect of a supervening event’ ([21]).

While there is no numerus clausus of frustrating event, they include:

  • frustration of a common purpose; and
  • subsequent legal changes and supervening illegality ([41])

Frustration of a common purpose

The essence of the doctrine is that a contract is frustrated when performance would be ‘radically different’ from what the parties had envisaged ([27]; Davis Contractors v Fareham UDCNational Carriers v Panalpina).

The search then is for what the parties have promised and whether performance would fall within the scope of their promises. Contractual interpretation is highly relevant to the question of whether a supervening event means that performance goes beyond what has been promised. Many disputes will turn out to be about contractual interpretation.

In frustration cases, however, the search is for ‘something much more elemental’ which can be described as the parties’ ‘common purpose’ ([29]).

In Edwinton Commercial Corporation v Tsavliris Russ (Worldwide Salvage & Towage) Ltd
(The “Sea Angel”),
Rix LJ said:

‘In my judgment, the application of the doctrine of frustration requires a multi-factorial approach. Among the factors which have to be considered are the terms of the contract itself, its matrix or context, the parties’ knowledge, expectations, assumptions and contemplations, in particular as to risk, as at the time of contract, at any rate so far as these can be ascribed mutually and objectively, and then the nature of the supervening event, and the parties’ reasonable and objectively ascertainable calculations as to the possibilities of future performance in the new circumstances    …. there has to be as it were a break in identity between the contract as provided for and contemplated and its performance in the new circumstances’ ([111]).

This multi-factor approach (in particular the third factor) goes beyond what would be relevant if the question were purely one of contractual interpretation.

Marcus Smith J. refers to Krell v Henry to illustrate the sort of case in which the parties could have been said to have a common purpose underlying their contract:

‘Their common purpose was just that: whilst the parties surely would have been in opposition in bargaining on price, the thing that they were bargaining about was predicated on the procession taking place. Matters would have been very different had the room been a hotel room charging a higher rate because of the higher demand for rooms on that particular day due to the Coronation.’ ([37]).

The ‘demands of justice’ are a factor:

‘If the provisions of a contract in their literal sense are to make way for the absolving effect of frustration, then that must, in my judgment, be in the interests of justice and not against those interests’ (Edwinton Commercial Corporation v Tsavliris Russ (Worldwide Salvage & Towage) Ltd (The “Sea Angel”) at [112]).

Subsequent legal changes and supervening illegality

Marcus Smith J explained that:

‘The EMA’s contention that the Lease was frustrated by supervening illegality, taken at its highest, involved the proposition that, after withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, it would no longer be lawful for the EMA to pay rent to CW pursuant to the Lease. The payment of rent would be unlawful because the EMA would – in paying rent – be acting ultra vires or without capacity’ ([96]).

Outlining the relevant law, he noted that:

‘Supervening illegality means more than simply Patel v. Mirza type illegality: it can arise where the performance of a contract becomes unlawful for one party by reason of a supervening change in law or by reason of a supervening change of circumstance rendering that which was previously lawful unlawful’ ([170]).

Where the illegality is the result of a foreign law

Marcus Smith J. considered the EMA’s case on the assumption that it had made out its case that the payment of rent would be ultra vires the EMA. This illegality would arise from EU law:

‘This is a case where the supervening illegality arises under a foreign law that is not the applicable law. Generally speaking, the validity and enforceability of a contract governed by English law is not as a general rule affected by the question whether the contract would be regarded as valid or whether its performance would be lawful according to the law of another country. The English law of frustration discounts illegality arising under a foreign law, save for certain limited exceptions.’ ([187])


‘The question, then, is whether – assuming that the EMA is right as regards the points it makes on vires – these are relevant for the purpose of frustration by way of supervening illegality. The question is whether the English law of frustration, which has regard to questions of legality where the performance of the contract would be unlawful according to the law of the place of performance, should also have regard to the law of incorporation, at least where this affects the capacity of a party to continue to perform obligations under a transaction lawfully entered into by it.’ ([188])

Marcus Smith J. declined to extend English law in this way ([189]).

What if performance was ultra vires and this was relevant in English law?

Even if the EMA had succeeded on supervening illegality thus far, that would not be the end of the analysis:

‘for supervening illegality to frustrate, it must remove all or substantially all of the benefit that one party receives from the contract.’ ([195])

Self-induced frustration

‘Self-induced frustration’ does not frustrate the contract:

’43 Of the five propositions identified by Bingham LJ in The Super Servant Two as not open to question, two might be said to relate to self-induced frustration:
(1) Proposition 4, that frustration should not be due to the act or election of the party seeking to rely on it; and
(2) Proposition 5, that the frustrating event must take place without blame or fault on the side of the party seeking to rely upon it.

44 Whether frustration is self-induced does not turn on technical questions of duty of care or fault.’

Marcus Smith J. said:

‘When considering whether there has been a frustrating event, it is quite clear that the courts consider the conduct of the party alleging frustration broadly and ask the broad question of whether the supervening event was something beyond that party’s control or within it. “Self-induced frustration” is something of a misnomer. It is simply a reference to post-contractual events and actions which indicate that certain options – that might have ameliorated the frustrating event – have been closed off by the acts or omissions of the party claiming frustration.’ ([206]).

Next posts

The judgment in this case is long, detailed and closely-argued. This post describes the relevant legal principles as articulated in the judgment. Subsequent posts will describe how the law was applied to the facts of this case.

Michael Lower


No waiver where landlord accepts rent after commencing possession proceedings

October 23, 2017

In Evans v Enever ([1920] 2 KB 315) T’s lease contained a forfeiture clause which gave the landlords the right to re-enter if the rent was in arrears or if the tenant became bankrupt. The tenant fell into arrears with the rent and was adjudicated a bankrupt.

The landlords commenced possession proceedings but these came to an end, in accordance with section 212 of the Common Law Procedure Act, when the tenant paid the rent and costs to the landlord. The landlords knew of the tenant’s bankruptcy when accepting this rent.

The landlords then brought new proceedings seeking possession on the grounds of the tenant’s bankruptcy. The question was whether the landlords had waived the right to forfeit when they accepted rent with knowledge of the bankruptcy.

It was held that they had not. The landlords’ action in bringing the first possession proceedings was an irrevocable election to determine the lease. The subsequent acceptance of the rent could not qualify this.

Michael Lower

Repairing covenant and the removal of a handrail from a staircase

July 3, 2017

In Dodd v Raebarn Estates Ltd ([2017] EWCA Civ 439, CA (Eng)) Mr D was staying in a friend’s first floor flat. He died after falling while walking down the staircase leading from the flat to the ground floor.

Raebarn owned the freehold of the building. Part of the building was sub-let to an intermediate landlord which had granted further sub-leases of individual flats. The intermediate landlord had, with Raebarn’s consent, altered the building. It removed two existing staircases and replaced them with a new staircase.

The staircase as built did not conform to the plans approved by the local authority in that it seemed likely that the new staircase never had a handrail.

Mrs D brought proceedings against Raebarn under section 4(4) of the Defective Premises Act 1972. Under section 4(4) Raebarn could only be liable if the fact that the new staircase had no handrail amounted to a failure to maintain or repair the property. The question, then, was whether the lack of a handrail amounted to disrepair.

Lewison LJ gave the main judgment with which the other members of the Court of Appeal agreed. The obligation to repair only arises when the demised premises are out of repair ([16]). The duty to repair is not a duty to make safe ([17]). Where, however, there is a need to repair, the work must be carried out in accordance with any applicable regulations and in accordance with standards of good practice at the time that the work is carried out ([25]).

Mrs D’s argument was that the removal of the original staircases was a deterioration in the property giving rise to a need to repair them. The repair works had to be carried out to the requisite standard. The missing handrail meant that they did not satisfy this standard. There had therefore been a failure to maintain and repair the property so that Raebarn was liable under s. 4(4).

This argument failed. The work on the staircases did not give rise to a lack of repair since the head-lease contemplated that such work might be carried out with Raebarn’s consent.

Once the new staircase had been installed, the repairing covenant applied to the staircase as altered. Had it deteriorated? It had not if there had never been a handrail.

Even if the altered staircase had once had a handrail which had been removed, it did not necessarily follow that the staircase was in disrepair. If there was no disrepair, the duty to carry out repairing works to the requisite standard never arose.

Michael Lower