Is a licensor liable for nuisance caused by its licensee?

It is a generally accepted principle that a landlord is not responsible for any nuisance caused by its tenants. A landlord cannot be held liable simply because a tenant uses its property in a manner that creates a nuisance; the landlord would either need to actively participate in the nuisance or let the property for a purpose which necessarily involves a nuisance. In Cocking and Another v Eacott and Another, the Court of Appeal considered whether this principle applies when the relationship between owner and occupier is one of licensor and licensee.

Mr and Mrs Cocking brought proceedings in nuisance against the owner of a neighbouring property (Mrs Waring) and the occupier (Ms Eacott, Mrs Waring’s daughter), owing to the excessive barking of Ms Eacott’s dog.

The Court held that Mrs Waring could not hide behind the principle described above and was therefore liable in nuisance. Ms Eacott was deemed to be a licensee on the basis that she did not pay any rent or bills and was not entitled to exclude her mother from the property. Mrs Waring therefore retained legal control and possession of the property and became liable once she knew of the barking and failed after a reasonable time to abate it.

There is often a fine line between arrangements that give rise to a landlord/tenant relationship and those that give rise to a licensor/licensee relationship. A property owner will often argue that an occupier is a licensee in order to prevent it from gaining rights, such as security of tenure. However, if it does, it must remember that it could become liable for the occupier’s actions as if it occupied the property itself.

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