When is a landlord responsible for an occupier’s nuisance?
A landlord is not liable for nuisance committed by his tenant unless the nuisance has either been expressly authorised by the landlord or is certain to result from the purposes for which the property has been let.
However where someone is occupying your property who is not a tenant, you as the owner may be treated as the occupier and liable for any nuisance caused at the property.
In a case before the Court of Appeal in March 2016, Mr and Mrs Cocking v Eacott and Waring, the Court had to decide whether the owner of a property which was occupied by the owner's daughter under a bare licence was liable for the nuisance caused by the daughter's barking dog.
Mrs Waring had granted a bare licence to her daughter Kim Eacott to live in a house owned by her in Hereford. Mrs Waring paid all the bills and maintained the house. The daughter did not pay any rent. Mr and Mrs Cocking lived in the house next door.
The neighbours complained of barking and shouting nuisance from the house. The complaints began before August 2008, but the judge found that Mrs Waring was aware that Mr and Mrs Cocking were alleging that her daughter was creating a nuisance from as early as in July 2009. Mr and Cocking brought a claim against Mrs Waring and her daughter. At the trial before the High Court, the Judge held that Mrs Waring was not liable for the shouting nuisance but that she was liable for the barking nuisance from July 2011 onwards. The court found that she had knowledge of the barking and did nothing to abate it, notwithstanding being "in complete control of the property".
Mrs Waring appealed arguing that her position as a licensor was more akin to that of a landlord.
The Court of Appeal confirmed that, unlike a landlord, an occupier will normally be responsible for a nuisance even if they did not directly cause it. This is because an occupier is "in control and in possession of the property". An owner can be considered to be an occupier of a property (for the purposes of liability for nuisance) if they have allowed others to live or carry out activities at the property.
The court decided that, on the facts, the judge was correct to treat Mrs Waring as an occupier of the property. She had possession and control of the property during the period that her daughter lived there and the trial judge was therefore right to hold Mrs Waring liable for the nuisance. Mrs Waring's position was more analagous to that of a local authority who is liable for nuisance created by travellers occupying the local authority's land than to the position of a landlord.
The court made it clear that in different circumstances a licence could be so similar to a lease that the licensor could not be treated as an occupier but instead would be closer to a landlord.
Although the law is clear that the general rule is that a landlord is not liable for the actions of its tenant, there are exceptions to this rule. If you are aware that occupiers of your property are causing a nuisance to others it is important that you consider whether you may have liability and take appropriate action to avoid a claim being brought against you.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.