When Are Landlords Liable for Injury? - dummies

When Are Landlords Liable for Injury?

By Robert S. Griswold, Laurence Harmon

When someone files a claim against a landlord for injuries, the courts look at the actions the landlord did or failed to do that allegedly caused the injuries. Courts often look for four things to determine whether and to what degree the landlord’s actions or inaction contributed to the damages suffered by the injured party.

Negligence

You, as the landlord, are considered to be legally negligent if they, or their agents (for example, property managers) fail to complete timely repairs, conduct routine inspections, or perform necessary maintenance work.

Although state negligence laws affecting landlords vary, landlords are generally held liable for negligence if they willfully fail to maintain the property in a habitable condition by performing basic maintenance or correcting dangerous conditions they knew or should have known would create a risk of injury to their residents and visitors.

A landlord’s failure to regularly inspect equipment such as electrical units and water heaters as required by law is obviously negligent. Bottom line: You’re responsible for upkeep of your properties and maintaining they’re in a safe, function condition or risk liability for negligence.

Failure to maintain or repair

The legal principle of premises liability means that certain areas of a multi-family property, such as common hallways and stairs, are considered to be under the control of the landlord. Equally important, you’ll be held liable absent such a duty to repair if you negligently make repairs that turn out to be dangerous.

Slip and fall is a good example of premises liability. The term is shorthand for a personal injury case in which a person slips or trips and falls, and is injured on someone else’s property. If these cases occur on a rental premises, the property’s landlord can be held legally responsible if there was a dangerous condition that wasn’t addressed properly in a timely manner.

Premises liability cases are based on claims of dangerous conditions such as torn carpeting, poor lighting, narrow, uneven, or slippery stairs, or a wet floor inside an apartment building that can cause someone to slip and suffer injury from the fall.

Other causes of slip and fall injuries are broken or uneven public walkways or rain, ice, snow, or hidden hazards, such as a pothole in the parking lot. You may be liable for damages when victims sustain injury as the result of the slip and fall.

Plaintiffs injured in a slip and fall must prove the following:

  • The cause of the accident was a dangerous condition.

  • The landlord had control over the dangerous condition.

  • The landlord knew, or should have known, that the dangerous condition existed and negligently failed to correct it.

  • The dangerous condition presented an unreasonable risk to someone on the property.

  • The condition existed for a sufficient amount of time that the landlord should have corrected it.

  • The condition must have been something that the injured party shouldn’t have anticipated, a requirement implying that people can’t be expected to avoid dangers unless they’re aware of those dangers.

Violation of a health, safety, or building code

You, the landlord, can be sued for negligence for violating a statute or a building code intended to protect residents’ health or safety. For example, building codes often specify locations where handrails and other similar features must be installed

If a resident or a visitor falls on a stairway without required handrails, and the lack of the handrail caused the injuries, the landlord may be held responsible for damages as a result of the violation.

Reckless or intentional acts

Landlords can be held liable for reckless or intentional acts:

  • Reckless means extremely careless behavior regarding an obvious problem. An example of a landlord’s recklessness is failure to correct a dangerous defect, such as a malfunction in the property’s electrical system that has existed for several months and eventually causes extensive fire damage to several apartments.

  • Intentional means action taken deliberately to cause harm to a person; for example, an apartment manager who verbally abuses a resident, leading to mental suffering, medical bills, and lost wages. Intentionally harmful acts in the rental industry are infrequent, but they do occur.

Damages for these extreme kinds of conduct are often substantial and may include punitive damages, as the nearby sidebar defines.