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Does it form part of the structure or not?

In Grand v Gill, the landlord had a damages and costs award made against him for disrepair.

Grand entered into an assured shorthold tenancy on the 21 November 2004. The tenancy continued thereafter on a statutory periodic tenancy. Grand occupied the property with her daughter who is now over the age of 18.

Grand made a claim against her landlord, Gill, who had a long lease interest in the property, for harassment, personal injury, breach of the quiet enjoyment covenant and disrepair.

The main concern here was the disrepair. Grand’s daughter began sleeping in the lounge due to the damp and mould in her room. There was a problem with water ingress due to a damaged roof and poor guttering. However these issues did not form part of the landlord’s demise. Finally the gas-fired boiler broke down frequently and worked inefficiently. Damages for the disrepair amounted to £5,250 with damages for the breach of quiet enjoyment standing at £350.

Grand appealed. Grand’s legal representative argued that the award for the damp failed to take into account the fact that Gill was not just in breach of his obligations in relation to the heating problems which contributed to the damp, but also the omission to repair damaged plaster.

Expert reports had been obtained and they concluded that there was damaged plasterwork in the lounge due to penetrating dampness. The report suggested that Gill needed to hack off the damaged plaster and replace. Gill did not undertake these works. If this plaster formed part of the structure of the property Gill was indeed liable for this both pursuant to the terms of the agreement and Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

The Court of Appeal held that plaster is an essential part of the creation and shaping of the ceiling or partition wall, which give a dwellinghouse it’s appearance and shape. Plaster is a constructional finish to Walls and ceilings, to which the decoration is applied. Plaster is not a decorative finish and Gill is accordingly liable.

The damages were not referred back to the lower court because they were minor in the grand scheme of things. Therefore the court assessed damages in a summary manner at £750 to replace the £600 that was awarded for the damp.

The issue of whether plaster is structural, and therefore part of the section 11 obligations, or decorative and not has been floating back and forth in the higher courts for some time without a clear answer. In the judgement itself many cases are considered but this is the first case where the issue seems to be clarified and landlords are now held accountable for damaged plaster. In many cases this is irrelevant because the landlord assumes an obligation in the lease for plaster work among other things. However, this is not always the case.

While the damages were not increased by much it is the general principle that matters. The concept that anything which is to act as a support for paint or other decorative material is structural could be applied to a number of other areas and could have far reaching effects.

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