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Southwark LBC v Mills [1999] 3 WLR 939

Landlord and tenant; whether poor soundproofing amounted to breach of covenant for quiet enjoyment

Facts

Mills was a tenant in a council flat which was built in 1919 and owned by Southwark LBC. Mills complained under a provision within the tenancy agreement that the noise insulation between the flats was wholly inadequate as against normal use of the premises. Mills sought an order that the ineffective insulation amounted to a breach of covenant for quiet enjoyment, and therefore, specific works should be conducted to remedy this.

Issues

Mills argued any act or omission which amounted to a substantial interference with the quiet enjoyment of the leasehold premises would amount to a breach of covenant under the rule in Sanderson v Berwick-upon-Tweed Corporation (1884) 13 QBD 547. The ineffective insulation and the consequent noise prevented Mills from enjoying the full benefit of possession, and amounted to a breach of covenant. Southwark LBC contended there is no breach of covenant for quiet enjoyment where the only remedy is to conduct works on the leasehold premises. To constitute a breach of covenant of quiet enjoyment, there must be a direct and physical interference with the land and mere annoyance is insufficient.

Held

A covenant for quiet enjoyment is one under which the landlord covenants not to substantially interfere with the tenant’s lawful possession of the premises. Frequent excessive noise was capable of amounting to such interference, but the covenant was prospective in nature, and could not apply to conditions which were in place prior to the grant of the lease. The noise was caused by structural defects which were present at the time of the grant and must have been in the contemplation of the parties and the council could not, therefore, be held to have been in breach of covenant.


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