Coventry v Lawrence [2014] UKSC 46

If a tenant is causing nuisance it is not uncommon for a neighbour to threaten legal action against the landlord as well as the tenant.

A recent ruling in the Supreme Court saw the owner of a neighbouring property bring proceedings against the Tenant and the Landlord of a stadium used for motocross racing, on the grounds of nuisance via excessive noise.

Relying on established principles, it was held that a landlord cannot be liable for its tenant’s nuisance unless one of the following is present:

  • The landlord has been ‘actively and directly’ participating in the nuisance; or
  • It must have been an inevitable, or nearly certain, consequence when the lease was granted that the permitted use would lead to nuisance.

1. Actively and directly

In Coventry v Lawrence, although the Landlord had no personal involvement in the motorsport activity, he did personally and assertively deal with any nuisance complaints from neighbours and fought noise abatement notices from the council in an effort to keep the track open. Dissenting opinion argued that this was enough to constitute active and directive involvement as he had ‘gone far beyond the ordinary role of a landlord protecting and enforcing his interests under a lease’. However, the judge attributed this simply to the acts of a person with an economic interest in the land and as the Landlord had no personal involvement in the nuisance itself, the condition was not satisfied.

2. Inevitable, or nearly certain, consequence

The mere fact that the Landlord knew of the intended use was not enough to make the Landlord liable in Coventry v Lawrence. The Supreme Court decided that it was possible, at the time the lease was made, for the racetrack to be used for the permitted purpose of motocross racing without there being excessive noise leading to nuisance. So this test also failed.

The judgement in Coventry v Lawrence is important as it challenged the established principles concerning landlord liability and forced the Supreme Court to clarify both landlord participation and the inevitability of nuisance. The outcome is a favourable one for landlords as it confirms the conditions necessary for landlord liability are narrow and specific, to be taken at their literal meaning.

So if you are a landlord with a noisy tenant, this should come as a welcome decision, as it affords you further protection from being drawn into nuisance disputes with neighbours. However, if you are a third party suffering at the hands of a neighbouring tenant, the ruling in Coventry v Lawrence could leave empty any threats made against the landlord, with the chances of successfully establishing a claim diminished as a result.

For further information regarding this or any other property and construction matter, please contact the Edwin Coe Property team by clicking here here.

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