The Scottish Government's 'get ready for winter' campaign has now started. What are a landlord's legal responsibilities to tenants in winter?
While the current weather is causing significant flooding problems, no doubt we will soon see the return of freezing weather which leads to many housing associations and landlords facing calls from tenants about frozen pipes. Many will also be concerned about what they have to do to keep footpaths clear of snow and ice. So what are the legal obligations of a landlord in a "big freeze"?
A frozen pipe usually means that there is no cold water supply. Is a frozen pipe something that a landlord is legally obliged to 'repair'? Is a frozen pipe actually capable of 'repair'?
Whilst that is arguable, the general legal rules state that a landlord is obliged to keep a property wind and watertight and reasonably fit for human habitation. A landlord certainly has a duty to take reasonable steps to deal with a frozen pipe and no water supply, regardless of actually carrying out a 'repair'.
The matter is further complicated for housing associations by the Right to Repair Regulations which require small urgent repairs to be done within a specified period of time. 'Repair' is not defined within the Regulations. The list of qualifying repairs covered by the Regulations include 'loss or partial loss of water supply' and 'a non-flushing toilet'. If the cost of such a repair is less than £350, these Regulations will apply.
With regard to your obligations, to clear, grit or salt areas which have not been adopted by the local authority, you do have an obligation, in terms of the Occupiers Liability (Scotland) Act 1960, to take such care as is necessary towards persons on your property in respect of dangers due to the state of the property. As an occupier of such land, it would be reasonable for you to clear pathways and grit them. Arguably un-cleared and un-gritted pathways present a danger.
The obligation on you is to ensure that nobody will injure themselves. All that you are required to do is show the degree of care that a reasonable, prudent person would show. You therefore need to consider, very carefully, the circumstances of any areas in question and take reasonable steps in relation to your obligations to clear any pathways and grit them.
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