As we’re now in the winter months, it is possible that we may be faced with the harsh weather conditions which engulfed the country last year. The clearance of snow and ice from and around buildings and estates can be onerous and expensive. The question then arises as to who (i.e. landlords or tenants) is responsible for clearing buildings, estates and their common areas of snow and ice.
Generally, if a tenant has a lease of part of a building or estate, the landlord retains control of the common parts (which may include roadways and paths) and grants its tenants rights of way over these parts. Landlords usually have an obligation to maintain the common parts with the tenant contributing towards the costs through the service charge. Although it is unlikely that a lease would specifically refer to the clearance of snow and ice in the list of service the landlord is to provide, the lease may contain a general clause permitting the landlord to provide (and charge for) services in the interests of good estate management. It is then a question as to whether the clearance of snow and ice from the common parts is in the interests of good estate management for that particular building or estate. For example, it may be easier for a landlord of a health centre to argue that snow and ice clearance around the accesses to the building is in the interests of good estate management than that of a landlord of a small office.
If a tenant has a lease of a whole building, it is unlikely that the lease will impose any obligations on the landlord to provide services. It will then be the responsibility of the tenant to repair and maintain the building. Again, although the lease may not specifically mention the clearance of snow and ice, it is likely that such works will be covered by the tenant’s repairing and maintenance obligations.
Neither landlords nor tenants are responsible for clearing snow and ice from public highways. Notwithstanding this, landlords or tenants may want to clear public highways that lead to their premises to allow better access to the premises but may be worried about people getting injured. Directgov has therefore issued advice on this by issuing a ‘snow code’.
A tenant also has to be mindful not to fall foul of its statutory obligations towards its employees and visitors. Most leases (whether of part or of whole) will oblige the tenant to comply with all statutory obligations in respect of the premises, including health and safety. Therefore, even if under the lease the landlord is not obliged to clear snow and ice, the tenant may well have to in order to comply with its statutory obligations and to ensure that its employees and visitors are safe.
The issues surrounding snow and ice clearance is “snow” joke - if in doubt as to who is responsible for clearing snow and ice from and around your premises, legal advice should be sought.