A recent Tenancy Tribunal decision has highlighted the obligation for landlords to attend to repair jobs in a timely fashion.

Background facts for the case

The tenant complained to the landlord in 2018 that the back stairs to the property were deteriorating. The steps were said to be rotting and coming loose. The stairs led to the back of the property where there were a washing line and vegetable garden.

In March 2019 the owner inspected the stairs with a builder to obtain a quote for repairing the stairs.

In May 2020 no repair work had been undertaken on the stairs and the tenant slipped on the steps which moved under her weight. As a result, the tenant fell 1.5 meters fracturing her knee. The injury required surgery and a two-night stay in hospital and led to the tenant being housebound and unable to work for about three months.

The Decision of the Tenancy Tribunal

The Tribunal found that the landlord was responsible for failing to maintain the steps and said "The repair was urgent. The potential for injury to persons using the stairs was high. The tenant had specifically warned the landlord of this."

The landlord argued amongst other things that the failure to repay was the fault of the builder as it was up to the builder to do the work. The Tribunal said this repair job was the landlord’s responsibility.

Conclusion - don’t delay

Some points to be aware of from this case:

· Landlords must carry out repair jobs in a timely fashion especially where there is a risk of injury to persons. Today there is a greater focus on health and safety and one can expect that the Tribunal would not give much leniency where there is a risk of injury to persons.

· Landlords cannot escape liability by blaming tradesmen for delays. One would hope the Tribunal may make some allowance for delays from tradesmen but not anything like the 18 months or so of inaction in this case.

· If repairs are taking longer than expected, landlords would be recommended to keep written records of steps they are taking for the repairs. These records can then show what action the landlord was taking and when in trying to meet their obligations.

By Allister Doo, Partner at Blackwells Lawyers, Email: adoo@blackwells-law.co.nz, Web: www.blackwells-law.co.nz