Court tackles disability and the right of tenant to adapt their home

Landlords must allow disabled leaseholders to adapt their homes so long as the alterations are reasonable and necessary.

This was the judgment of Cardiff County Court in the case of Andrew Smailes and Stacey Poyner-Smailes v Clewer Court Residents Limited which was supported and funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Court ruled that the landlord should have allowed the alteration works, which were reasonable in the light of her disability.

Mrs Smailes had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which restricted her mobility, and needed to make adaptations to her home to accommodate her needs, such as moving the kitchen and the bedroom. Mrs Smailes and her husband owned the leasehold for their flat, but a term in the lease contained an absolute prohibition against alteration, whether structural or otherwise. When they asked the landlord, Clewer Court Residents Limited, to allow them to do this given their circumstances, they were refused. The Smailes had to move out of their home and brought a disability discrimination case against the landlord.

The landlord admitted that Mrs Poyner-Smailes had a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, and that she was at a substantial disadvantage when occupying the flat in its original state, and that the adaptations proposed were both “reasonable and necessary” to lessen that disadvantage. The issue was whether the landlord was in breach of its duty under section 20(3) Equality Act 2010 to make “reasonable adjustments” in respect of Mrs Smailes’ disability by refusing to allow the alterations because of the absolute prohibition in the lease.

The court ruled that the landlord should have agreed to let the Smailes carry out the alteration works, which were reasonable in light of her disability.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “'Your home should be a place of safety and security, not a source of anxiety and restriction. We are pleased the court has clarified that landlords must change lease agreements to allow alterations that are reasonable and necessary. This issue affects many disabled tenants and we hope that today’s ruling will go a long way to ensure that disabled people can enjoy their right to independent living.”

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