The Reasonable Man

Throughout my long and illustrious career at the bar, (a free packet of pork scratchings with a bottle of Stella…), I have triumphed on many an occasion by using the reasonable man defence in cases of negligence.  I refer of course to Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co (1856) 11 Exch 781  To refresh the memory of my fellow Rumpolds: Facts: The defendant had installed water mains in the street with fire plugs at various points.  During a severe frost the plug near the plaintiff’s house ruptured and a large quantity of water escaped and entered the plaintiff’s house.  The water mains had been installed 25 years ago with no problems to date. Issue: Whether the defendants were negligent when they installed the water mains 25 years ago. Procedure: Trial court jury decided in favour of the plaintiff, the defendant appealed.  The decision was reversed. Rule: Negligence is the omission to do something which a reasonable man, guided upon those considerations which ordinarily regulate the conduct of human affairs, would do or doing something which a prudent and reasonable man would not do.

How does this relate to rental properties? Let me explain:

As we were locking up the office one evening earlier in the week, we received a telephone call from a tenant’s relative (note; not the tenant). It could be surmised as, “The boiler has broken down and she has eighteen kids and she has had no heating all day. What are you going to do about it?”  Firstly, with more offspring than the local rabbit population, she had to be from Varteg and secondly, why , if she had been freezing since the break of day, had it been left to call the office at closing time?  As a reasonable and considerate individual, I said that we would have a plumber there first thing the following day. “Not good enough my dear chap” came the answer.  This is a translation from the local dialect which in its original form read, “You are a bunch of “£$%s and I will set fire to the house”. Very reasonable.

The plumber did visit the property at 0900hrs the following day to discover that the tenant had let the pressure bar run down to zero, resulting in the safety feature of the boiler kicking in, whereby the boiler automatically switches itself off.  Otherwise, it would have eventually exploded, with the potential of injuring one or all of the eighteen children.  When we asked the tenant as to whom the cost of the call out charge should be billed, you can imagine the response.

Similar interaction with a tenant took place when another urgent call came in, “The strong wind has blown the lock off the door, it is now totally unprotected and we will get burgled and my granny’s Ming vase will end up in Cash Converters” (I admit, I made the last bit up, she actually said Sotheby’s).  A contractor was dispatched with immediate effect who established that the adverse meteorological conditions was actually a husband with a temper and the only ‘wind’ was the one that he was three sheets to.

Ninety-five percent of the time, leasing properties and the whole rental process goes smoothly.  As responsible and reasonable agents we have to act in a professional manner, with if necessary, some compromise from the various parties.  If in the case of the boiler we had said that a plumber would be making an appearance sometime in the next week, that would have been wholly unreasonable and unprofessional and the tenant would have substantial and reasonable grounds for complaint.  I am somewhat puzzled and bemused when paid up members of adult society are so convinced that they have been wronged feel it necessary, even reasonable for a member of their extended family to make a call into their (the tenant’s) landlord/the agency handling their tenancy, demanding immediate action.  The same demographic are wholly unprepared to accept that action may not be so urgently required that it must be undertaken in the middle of the night, but instead in a reasonable time.  I am similarly annoyed with those ‘professional’ landlords who when assuming their own legal stance at the bar state with authority that, they told the tenant “Where they could %^&*7$ go” or “I’ll smash their £^&*% face in”.  Such landlords do tend to get the tenants that their attitude and behaviour deserve.  I often quote Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co to such individuals, which tends to result in my being offered to have my “£^&*% face” smashed in.  Reasonable chaps.