The Coventry v Lawrence litigation attracted a lot of attention earlier this year on the subject of when an injunction would be granted to restrain a nuisance (such as interfering with rights to light). A further decision by the Supreme Court in the same case has now provided some welcome guidance on the different topic of when a landlord may be found liable for nuisance caused by a tenant.
By way of reminder, in Coventry, Mrs Lawrence was the owner of a bungalow near to a stadium that had been let to a tenant who ran motor racing events. She brought a claim against the tenant and the landlord, claiming that the noise from the motor races interfered with the reasonable use and enjoyment of her home.
Case law has established that a landlord can only be found liable in nuisance in two circumstances: one, where the landlord authorised it by letting the property in circumstances where nuisance was an inevitable result; and two, where the landlord has participated directly in the commission of the nuisance. In the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger found that the landlord had neither authorised nor participated in the commission of the nuisance.
Lord Neuberger dismissed any argument that the landlord had authorised the nuisance because it was an inevitable consequence of letting the stadium. Even though the intended use of the stadium was known to the landlord at the time of the letting and nuisance did in fact result from the letting, this was not in itself sufficient to render the landlord liable in nuisance.
Although there is little authority on the issue, the Court found that the question of whether a landlord has directly participated in a nuisance must largely be one of fact. This should be based principally on what happens subsequent to the grant of a lease, although that may take colour from the facts surrounding the grant. If a claim in nuisance is to succeed then it must be based on “active” or “direct” participation. By extension, the Court found that a landlord failing to stop or discourage a tenant from causing a nuisance cannot amount to “participating” in the nuisance. Other than in very unusual circumstances, attempts by a landlord to mitigate a nuisance should not imply that the landlord has authorised such nuisance.
Where the lease contains covenants against the tenant causing a nuisance, Lord Neuberger did not consider that a landlord’s position would be weaker simply because it had failed to enforce such covenants. At the same time, landlords cannot avoid liability simply by including covenants against nuisance in their leases.
This decision should provide some comfort to landlords facing claims for nuisance caused by their tenants. However, the very fact that Lords Carnwath and Mance found that the landlord actively encouraged the tenant’s nuisance (and should therefore have been liable for it) indicates that Coventry is no panacea for landlords. Nuisance cases will continue to turn on their facts and landlords should continue to act with care when confronted by potential nuisance claims against their tenants.
Coventry and others v Lawrence and another (No. 2)  UKSC 46