In the UK, a tenant lives in a flying freehold, i.e., the tenant's upstairs bathroom is on top of the neighbour's living room.

The tenant upstairs has admitted to forgetting about running a bath, and has completely flooded the bathroom.

Water has then gone through the floorboards and has leaked into the neighbour's ceiling, causing water damage.

Who is responsible for repairing the ceiling, the landlord of the upstairs flat, or the negligent tenant?

If the tenant is responsible, are there any special circumstances where the landlord is in fact responsible?

  • 2
    It's likely that the person responsible for repairing the downstairs flat is neither of the parties you suppose but rather the landlord of the downstairs flat. The downstairs landlord doubtless has a claim against the upstairs landlord, or perhaps directly against the tenant, to recover the cost of the repairs. If the upstairs landlord is liable to the downstairs landlord then the upstairs landlord has a claim against the upstairs tenant. That's at least how it works in jurisdictions I am familiar with, but none of those is in the UK.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 12:07
  • @phoog: Sounds about right to me. It's the property owners who need to speak first - to each other, and to their respective insurers too. Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 13:28
  • I am speaking as the landlord of the upstairs flat, and the downstairs flat are the home owners. The question is who is actually liable, if the upstairs landlord can sue the upstairs tennant then by law, surely the upstairs landlord is not liable as is the tenants fault. Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 16:11
  • @jensenpaull the tenant whose apartment was ruined has a contract with the landlord wherein the landlord undertakes to provide the premises in habitable condition. If the premises become uninhabitable, the landlord is liable to the tenant to remedy the fault. That someone else is liable to the landlord for damaging the property doesn't change that. Consider: you hire a restaurant to provide food for the party. They don't provide the food because their butcher's shop burned down after a negligent driver crashed through the back door. Do you sue the driver? No. You sue the restaurant.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 22:05

1 Answer 1



The upstairs owner is liable because water escaping from their property damaged the downstairs property. The tenant is liable because their negligence caused the escape of the water. Under English and Welsh law, both are jointly and severally responsible for the loss.

In practice, the downstairs owner would normally claim the damage from their insurer and the insurer would seek reimbursement from either or both of the other parties. The insurer will most likely choose the landlord because a) they are easy to identify, b) they don’t have to prove negligence (water escaped and did damage QED), and c) they know the landlord has the assets to settle the claim (because they know they are a property owner).

Normally, the landlord would claim on their insurance and the two insurance companies would sort it out. If the landlord has the correct cover, it will protect the tenant as well.

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