Social Landlords’ Rights to Carry Out Improvements – High Court Ruling

An Englishman’s home is his castle and, depending on the terms of their leases, that applies to tenants as well as freeholders. However, in an instructive ruling, the High Court has decided that a social housing landlord was entitled to access a sheltered flat in order to install a new front door that complied with fire safety requirements.

The case concerned a block of 52 sheltered flats. The landlord, a charity, replaced all but one of their front doors without demur from tenants. However, one tenant, who suffered from impaired vision, held out. He expressed concern that the new fire door would be difficult for him to open and close and that, if he fell ill, he would be unable to get out of his flat and others would be unable to get in to assist him.

The tenant said he would permit access to install the door if he could remove its lock and replace it with his own. The landlord responded, however, that that would result in the door no longer being regarded as fire safe. Faced by that impasse, the landlord launched proceedings, but a judge refused to grant a declaration that it was entitled to access the flat in order to replace the door.

The landlord conceded that the fire safety door would be an improvement and that it could not rely on its repairing covenants in the lease in order to install it. In allowing the appeal, however, the Court found that the judge’s reading of the lease was too literal and would cause obvious practical difficulties.

The background was relevant, in that the block was occupied by vulnerable people, and a reasonable person would expect the landlord to be able to access individual flats for the purpose of protecting the safety of all residents. The landlord’s stance was entirely reasonable and, on a correct reading of the lease, it enjoyed a right of access to the flats for the purpose of performing improvements, including the installation of fire doors.