Duty of Care for Property Owners Explained

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 What is the Duty of Care Owed by Property Owners?

The duty of care owed by property owners refers to the legal obligation they have to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition to protect people from dangerous conditions or harm.

The duty varies depending on the category of the person entering the property, which generally falls into three categories: invitees, licensees, and trespassers.

This duty is related to premises liability, which holds property owners accountable for injuries that occur on their property due to unsafe conditions.

Premises liability is a legal concept that holds property owners responsible for injuries or damages that occur on their property due to their failure to exercise reasonable care in maintaining the property. In other words, property owners have a legal duty to ensure that their property is reasonably safe for others to use and that they take appropriate steps to warn visitors of any potential dangers.

How to Determine What Type of Duty is Owed?

It is necessary to understand the three categories of individuals who may enter a property to determine the type of duty owed:


These individuals are owed the highest duty of care, as they are invited onto the property for business purposes. Property owners are responsible for repairing known dangers and reasonably inspecting for, discovering, and fixing unknown hazards in the accessible areas of the property. For example, a storekeeper must ensure the restroom is safe for customers.


These individuals are on the property for social reasons or their own purposes. Property owners owe licensees a lesser duty of care than invitees, only requiring reasonable care to protect them from known dangers. There is no obligation to inspect for and discover unknown hazards. For example, a party guest at a homeowner’s residence is considered a licensee.

Another example of a licensee could be a neighbor who comes over to borrow a tool or a book. In this scenario, the property owner has permitted the neighbor to enter the property, but the purpose of the visit is not for a business-related reason. As a licensee, the neighbor is owed a lesser duty of care than an invitee, but the property owner still has an obligation to protect them from known hazards on the property.


These individuals enter a property without permission, and property owners generally do not owe them a duty of care. However, property owners cannot willfully harm trespassers and, under certain conditions, may be held liable for injuries sustained by trespassers due to unsafe conditions on the property. This liability may increase if children are involved, as property owners are responsible for ensuring their property does not pose hazards that may attract

What Are Some Types of Premises Liability Cases?

Many personal injury liability cases fall under premises liability, including:

  1. Slip and fall accidents: A customer at a grocery store slips and falls on a spilled liquid that was not cleaned up in a timely manner, resulting in a broken wrist.
  2. Snow and ice-related accidents: A pedestrian slips on an icy sidewalk outside a commercial building because the property owner failed to clear the snow and ice, causing a fractured hip.
  3. Inadequate maintenance of premises: A visitor at an apartment complex falls through a rotten wooden staircase that was not properly maintained, leading to a severe leg injury.
  4. Defective or unsafe conditions on the property: A patron at a restaurant is injured when a poorly constructed balcony collapses, causing multiple injuries.
  5. Insufficient building security leading to injuries or assaults: A tenant in an apartment building is assaulted after the property owner fails to repair a broken security door, allowing unauthorized individuals to enter the building.
  6. Elevator and escalator accidents: A shopper at a mall is injured when the escalator they are on suddenly stops and causes them to fall, resulting in a head injury.
  7. Dog bite incidents: A neighbor’s child is bitten by a dog on a homeowner’s property because the owner failed to secure the dog in a fenced area or on a leash.
  8. Swimming pool accidents: A guest at a hotel drowns in a swimming pool that lacks appropriate safety measures, such as fencing, life-saving equipment, or warning signs.
  9. Amusement park accidents: A rider at an amusement park is injured when a roller coaster malfunctions due to poor maintenance, resulting in a severe neck injury.
  10. Fires: A tenant in a residential building suffers severe burns in a fire caused by faulty wiring that the property owner neglected to address.
  11. Water leaks or flooding incidents: A homeowner’s basement floods due to a burst pipe that was not properly insulated, causing extensive property damage and potential mold exposure.
  12. Exposure to toxic fumes or chemicals: An employee at a manufacturing facility develops respiratory problems after exposure to hazardous chemicals that the property owner did not store or ventilate.

What Measures Can Property Owners Take?

Property owners are responsible for taking reasonable measures to ensure the safety of those entering their property.

Addressing foreseeable hazards involves mitigating risks reasonably expected to occur on a property. Property owners must assess the likelihood of various hazards and take appropriate actions to prevent injuries or damages. These actions should be proportional to the potential risk, balancing the need for safety with the costs and practicality of implementing safety measures.

In the case of repairing broken stairs or inspecting common areas in an apartment complex, these are reasonable measures because they involve maintaining essential infrastructure and shared spaces. Broken stairs pose a clear and immediate danger to residents and visitors, and it is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure these areas are safe for use.

Similarly, inspecting common areas regularly helps identify potential hazards, such as loose railings or faulty lighting, which can be promptly addressed to prevent accidents.

On the other hand, employing armed guards to patrol an office building in a low-crime area 24/7 is likely to be considered unreasonable because the cost and intrusiveness of such security measures would be disproportionate to the actual risk of criminal activity in the area.

In this scenario, the property owner might consider more cost-effective and less invasive measures, such as installing security cameras, improving lighting around the building’s perimeter, or implementing access control systems.

When Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you are a property owner dealing with invitees, licensees, or trespassers on a regular basis, it is best to familiarize yourself with your state’s premises liability laws. It may be beneficial to consult with a local real estate lawyer to ensure you understand your duties and responsibilities regarding the safety of visitors and trespassers on your property.

LegalMatch is an online legal matching service that connects clients with local lawyers who practice in the area of law related to their legal issues. LegalMatch can help you find a property lawyer who can assist you in understanding your state’s premises liability laws and your responsibilities as a property owner.

To use LegalMatch, simply visit our website and provide information about your legal issue and location. LegalMatch will then match you with local property lawyers who have experience handling cases similar to yours. You can review the lawyers’ profiles and contact them directly to discuss your case and determine if they are the right fit for you.

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