The Defective Premises Act 1972 allows the owner or tenant of a defective residential property to submit a claim under the Act if the defect existed when the dwelling was built, and as a result the property is deemed unsuitable for human habitation.
Before the Act’s passage, it was felt that the law did not provide sufficient protection to buyers or tenants of defective dwellings. The Act serves as protection and continues to operate on the principle of strict liability, which means that an individual is automatically liable to pay for the damages to the innocent party if they fail to comply with the Act.
What obstacles must be overcome?
If the claimant is unable to bring a claim in either of the preceding situations, they may be able to bring a claim under the Defective Premises Act 1972 against any individual who has performed work in connection with the construction of the residence. This would entail construction work as well as design work. The term “dwelling” is not defined in the Act and must be determined on an individual basis.
To bring a claim, it must be proven on the balance of probabilities that there is indeed a defect in the habitation induced by failure to complete work to a sufficient standard or with suitable material and that the dwelling was unsuitable for habitation at the date of completion. This would include not only new building construction but also the extension and conversion of existing structures. A person who instructs others to do the work may also be held liable under the Act.
The duty is owed to anyone who commissioned the development as well as anyone who obtains a stake in the property. Owners, anyone who helped contribute to the purchase price, and tenants are all included. As a result, there are more potential claimants under the Defective Premises Act than there would have been under a contract or negligence claim. It is also significant to mention that the Act’s effects cannot be excluded by agreement: the Act cannot be contracted out.
Is the house ‘unfit for habitation?’
There are multiple cases which have explained the meaning of ‘unfit for habitation’ within the Act. For example, in Alexander v Mercouris, the court held that whether a building is fit for habitation should be regarded because of work completed in a workmanlike fashion and with appropriate materials, rather than as a separate duty imposed by the Act. The Law Commission Report of 1970 advised that the Act only adhered to dangerous defects, and the judge in Bole affirmed that there must be something beyond minor defects for a dwelling to be unfit for habitation. Defects can be latent, or concealed, at the date of completion but still be covered by the Act.
Are there any safeguards?
If the person who performed the work was acting appropriately on the guidelines of someone else, there is a defence to a claim under the Act. This would most likely cover most subcontractors. A construction company may also be able to argue that they were following the instructions of an architect when building the house. Nevertheless, if the defendant has a duty to warn that there are issues or problems with the building if the instructions are followed, this defence does not apply. As such, if a contractor knows or should have known that the design would not operate, has a responsibility to inform, and fails to notify, this defence is not obtainable.
How much time do you have to file a claim?
Every claimant has six years from the completion of the building to file a claim. If the initially involved parties in the building’s construction or conversion attempted to fix the defects but were unsuccessful, the six years start to accumulate from the date the restoration work was accomplished. In a contract case, the six-year timeframe begins on the date of the breach; in a negligence claim, it begins on the date of the damage. As a result, there may be a longer period under the Act in which to file a claim.
Van Eaton Solicitors in Streatham will gather all of the necessary evidence to make your case as strong as possible. We always strive to keep your case out of court, utilising alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to handle all cases as efficiently as possible. Learn more about ADR by reading our previous article. If you or your business is involved in a dispute or you wish to pursue a claim on behalf of your business, contact us online or by phone on 0208 769 6739 to arrange an appointment.