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Landlords left confused on disability ruling

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Landlords have been left baffled where they stand on the Disability Discrimination Act after the Court of Appeal rejected a claim by a disabled tenant. In the case of Beedles v Guinness Northern Counties Ltd, the Court of Appeal ruled that The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) did not require the landlord to carry out repairs and redecoration which were the responsibility of the tenant under the terms of the tenancy. But the judgement also implied that an assessment must be made in each individual case where disabled tenants look for special auxiliary services from landlords. Mr Beedles was the tenant of Guinness Northern Counties (Guinness) under an assured tenancy. Under the tenancy agreement, he was obliged to keep the interior of the flat in good decorative repair. His flat was in a very shabby condition but could be made respectable by minor work including sticking back peeling wallpaper and thorough cleaning. Mr Beedles was on benefits and, although he could afford the materials required for the job, he could not afford to pay someone else to carry out the work. Being disabled, he could not safely climb ladders and so he made a request under the DDA, asking Guinness to carry out the work as an auxiliary aid or service, but Guinness refused. For landlords, the DDA requires them to provide auxiliary services at the request of a disabled person if that service would enable or facilitate the disabled tenant's enjoyment of premises. In court, the case turned on the interpretation of the words 'enjoy' and 'enjoyment'. Mr Beedles argued that 'enjoy' meant that he ought to be able to live in his flat and feel comfortable in his surroundings as would any other tenant. The Court of Appeal rejected this and held that 'enjoyment' meant no more than being able to use the premises in an ordinary lawful way. But the judgement implied that an assessment must be made in each individual case, as to whether the auxiliary service requested would enable the tenant to live in the premises as would any other typical tenant. Said Justin Emerson, landlord & tenant expert with Chelmsford-based solicitors Gepp & Sons: "Although this judgment should be of some comfort to landlords, the exact extent of landlord responsibility remains far from clear. "One of the judges, Lord Carnworth, suggested that he was not sure whether a statute could transfer an obligation from a tenant to a landlord unless it was expressly intended. It is a pity the Court did not consider this in more detail, because it might have provided a much more certain guide as to what was required of a landlord." He added: "It means landlords will need to have processes in place to make sure that each request of this sort is carefully considered in future." • For additional information please contact: Justin Emerson of Gepp & Sons. The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.