Legal Principles and Key Points
- In the case of Southwark LBC v Mills  1 A.C. 1, it was held that a covenant for quiet enjoyment did not impose an obligation on a landlord to rectify acts or omissions predating the grant of a tenancy. A landlord’s obligations could not be extended by the common law given how frequently Parliament legislates on this matter. A tenant takes premises in the condition in which he found them.
Facts of the Case
- D owned and operated several properties, including a block of flats and a converted Victorian house, in which C were tenants.
- C complained of being able to hear all the sounds made by their neighbours, even though they were behaving normally.
- This occurred because the flats lacked sound insulation. The lack of privacy led to ‘tension and distress.’
- Neither tenancy agreement contained any warranty on D’s behalf that the flats had sound insulation or is in any other way fit to live in.
- C alleged that D had breached the covenant for quiet enjoyment contained in the tenancy agreement. This was dismissed at first instance and upheld on appeal.
- Was D in breach of the covenant for quiet enjoyment for failing to install sound insulation that was not originally part of the structure?
- If not, had D authorised nuisance performed by other tenants?
Held by the House of Lords
- Finding for D, that the covenant for quiet enjoyment did not impose an obligation on D to rectify omissions pre-dating the grant of C’s tenancy.
- D was not obliged to install sound proofing in an existing dwelling that lacked it as an inherent structural defect, and common law could not impose such an obligation.
- As C’s neighbours were merely using their properties in the normal way, there was no nuisance and D could not be said to have authorised such nuisance.
- It is true that in the tenancy agreement D agreed to keep the structure in repair. However, C cannot rely on this. Keeping in repair means remedying disrepair. D is obliged only to restore the house to its previous good condition.
- Tenants typically do not have the bargaining power to reach an express warranty on the premises’ condition, or the freedom of choice to reject property which may not meet their needs. This is often the case with local authority housing.
- Parliament has intervened to protect certain tenants from the bleak laissez-faire of the common law. A number of techniques have been used, including statutory warranties for fitness of human habitation.
- Criteria for determining whether a dwelling-house was fit for habitation includes matters of dampness, lighting, ventilation, but not sound insulation.
- The covenant of quiet enjoyment requires that C’s lawful possession will not be interfered with by D/anyone claiming under D. It does not apply to things done before the tenancy was granted, even though they may have continuing consequences for C.
- Normal use of a residential flat cannot possibly be a nuisance to neighbours. If it were, we would reach the absurd position that each of us, behaving normally and reasonably, was open to a nuisance claim.
- “The present case is not concerned with whether the neighbouring tenants, in using their flats in the ordinary way, are lawfully claiming under the landlord. They obviously are. The question is rather whether their conduct amounts to a breach of the covenant for quiet enjoyment at all. In Sanderson’s case the flooding of the land was improper because he had a very limited right to discharge water onto the plaintiff’s land. He could do so only through the drains. If the drains were badly made so that they would not hold the water, it was his or his landlord’s responsibility to ensure that they did. A right to entry had been reserved to enable him to do so. But in the present cases, the rights of the tenants of neighbouring flats to use them in a normal way are not qualified in any way. As against C, there is nothing improper about their neighbours’ use of their flats” [13F].