This case concerned a tenant on a property who was rendered a partial paraplegic after falling down the stairs in the unit where she resided. She sued her landlords alleging breaches of duty owed to her pursuant to the Residential Tenancies Act 1994 (Qld) under her tenancy agreement and at common law.
The unit in which the accident occurred had been built in 1995 and the evidence was that it largely complied with the requirements of the relevant building code at that time.
The stairs were carpeted at the time and had been there since the time of the unit’s construction. As such the carpet had become worn toward the centre of the stairs through wear and tear.
Whilst the trial judge accepted the claimant’s contentions that 12 year old carpet is less likely to provide a non slip surface than other surfaces and that the carpeting alters the nosing characteristics of the stair tred, His Honour said there was no evidence that the carpet had in fact worn through nor that it was particularly slippery.

The Judge noted that a great deal of discussion at trial dwelt on whether the landlord’s property met relevant building code requirements and Australian standards. However His Honour noted at paragraph 8 that:

“the meeting of such Codes and Standards does not determine that the defendants have met the duties imposed on them at common law, under statute, or under their tenancy agreement nor does breach of such Codes and Standards show that they have not save to the extent any statute or contractual term requires adherence to such Codes or Standards.”
The trial judge was also critical of reliance by the claimant’s experts on overseas standards for nosings of stairs in institutional buildings used by the public. His Honour stated at paragraph 26: 
“The applicability of such standards to a case like the present is debateable. This was not a public place. Landlords, it might be said, are aware that members of the public, in the form of visitors, might use the stairs in question and that tenants could potentially be elderly or incapacitated in some way. But it is well established that standards applicable to commercial or other premises might well be different to those applicable to residential premises. And there was no evidence that landlords are in the habit of consulting Australian Standards let alone British ones.”
His Honour also noted that it was relevant to observe as the Defendant’s building expert Mr Catchpole did, that it is standard practise throughout the building industry to carpet stairs in residential premises.
His Honour’s summary of the evidence at paragraph 62 was that:

“the stairs could have been made safer, that there were features of them that in all probability would lead to someone slipping and in all probability contributed to the plaintiff’s fall. Causation, it seems to me, is a matter of common sense. The stairway in question did not meet the minimum requirements laid down by the Building Code of Australia in their carpeted state as the going on the first tread (and on average over the treads) was slightly less than the minimum, had nosings that were rounded and provided a poor visual cue to a user of the stairs all of which lead to an increased risk of falling. This risk was compounded by the relatively low level of lighting provided over the stairs. There was minimal ability to avert a fall given the absence of handrails”.
His Honour noted that there were simple measures and expense measures that would have substantially lessened this risk including provision of an appropriate handrail, improved nosing on the stairs or improvement of lighting. 
Not surprisingly, His Honour then commented that the “plaintiff is well down the path to a judgment in her favour”. However there was one remaining hurdle that the Plaintiff did not over come and that was “whether the law required that a landlord take these steps”. 
His Honour then made reference to the Residential Tenancy Act and the Lessor’s obligation to ensure:
  1. the premises are clean and fit for the tenant to live in and are in good repair;
  2. the lessor is not in breach of a law dealing with issues about the health or safety of persons using or entering the premises.
His Honour noted that despite the use of such words:

“it is now well established that the obligation to meet the requirements of the Building Code is not strict. The obligation imposed on the landlord by these contractual and statutory provisions does not extend to any warranty or guarantee of safety but “obliges the lessor to take reasonable steps to ascertain and satisfy himself” about the safety of the premises”.
As to the minor breach of the Building Code His Honour said at paragraph 75: 
“It was not suggested that the defendants were aware of the minimal difference in the goings of the stairs as carpeted, or that a reasonable landlord should have been. The difference here was a few millimetres. The only way that the deficit could have been discovered was to take a ruler and measure the goings on each step and then compare that measurement to the requirements of the Code. I cannot conceive that a failure by a landlord to undertake such actions between tenancies is unreasonable. There was certainly no evidence that landlords typically did any such thing.”
His Honour noted the remaining obligation was to ensure that the premises were fit for the tenant to live in. He said that he would be assisted by analysis of the common law in that regard. 
His Honour had regard to the seminal decision of the High Court in Jones v Bartlett (2000) 205 CLR 166.
His Honour specifically endorsed the comments of Justices Gummow and Hayne at paragraph 173 that:
“Premises will not be reasonably fit for the purpose for which they are let where the ordinary use of the premises for that purpose would, as a matter of reasonable foreseeability, cause injuries. The duty requires the landlord not to let premises that suffered defects which the landlord knows or ought to know make the premises unsafe for the use to which they are to be put. The duty with respect to dangerous defects will be discharged if the landlord takes reasonable steps to ascertain the existence of any defect and, once the landlord knows of any, if the landlord takes reasonable steps to remove them or make the premises safe.
This does not amount to a proposition that the ordinary use of the premises for the purpose for they are let must not cause injuries; it is that the landlord has acted in a manner reasonably to remove the risk.”
Justice McMeekin said for the purpose of this case the key obligation was to take “reasonable steps to ascertain the existence of any such defects”
Plaintiff’s counsel tried to make the submission that because this was a rental unit there was a nature of commerciality about the arrangement and it was more appropriate to impose a more exacting standard as applied to commercial premises. His Honour dealt with that submission at paragraph 89 stating:

“People coming to such premises are liable to be in greater numbers at any one time; there is the consequent prospect of unexpected interactions — bumps, jostling, difficulty looking down to see when crowded and the like; visitors have no pre-warning of the idiosyncrasies of the place; there is less ability for the occupier to control what visitors do when they come to their premises, the activities of some being likely to increase the risk of slipping or falling; and for those who have disabilities there is little or no capacity to adjust the risk for the disability — it is much easier for a visitor to a residence to be given such assistance as they might need. For these and like considerations there is a greater foreseeable risk of injury and so greater demands placed on the occupier.”
Helpfully for any owner of residential premises His Honour commented at paragraph 95: 
“There is no evidence that a lay person uninstructed in such matters as the relevant literature and standards on the safety of stairs, that informs Mr Kahler’s opinion and report, would appreciate that the level of risk here was out of the ordinary for stairs in a residential unit complex, if indeed it is. And I am reasonably confident that lay persons do not in fact have such knowledge. The essential step needed then was the retention of an expert such as Mr Kahler with his extensive knowledge of the relevant literature and standards, to examine and report on the stairs. While there may be cases where it is reasonable to expect that such an expert be retained by a landlord I cannot see that such a step was called for in this case.”
His Honour identified at paragraph 100 of the plurality in Jones v Bartlett did not agree on the precise formulation of the duty owed, but the plurality judgments at least stand for these propositions:
  1. there is no duty on a landlord of residential premises to ensure that those premises are as safe for residential use as reasonable care and skill on the part of anyone could make them;
  2. it is necessary to show that the premises are defective in the relevant sense and that the landlords knew or ought to have known of that defect; and
  3. there is no obligation to replace items which, although not defective, involve a foreseeable risk of injury simply because safer items are available.
His Honour observed at paragraph 102 that:
“I observe that where the courts have found a landlord to have breached the duties owed to a tenant, and there seem to have been very few such cases particularly in relation to falls on stairs, where the contractual and statutory duties have been as here, there invariably have been circumstances which have resulted in a finding that the landlord had actual or constructive notice of the risk that resulted in injury”.

Ultimately His Honour held in the absence of any evidence of actual or constructive notice of a defect there could be no breach of duty whether contractual, statutory or at common law on the path of these landlords.
The implications here obviously that reaffirmation that the court will not impose a standard of perfection upon a landlord of a domestic premises.
In the absence of actual or constructive knowledge of a defect, such a landlord will seldom be held liable.