Landlord Liability Law

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 What is the Landlord's Liability to the Tenants?

A landlord is an individual who owns property that is rented out to another individual, known as a tenant. Landlords have several duties with regards to property that they are renting to tenants. 

The landlord has a legal duty to ensure that the rental property is safe and habitable. If the landlord fails to keep the rental property and the surrounding premises in good condition by making necessary repairs, and a tenant is injured as a result, a landlord may be held liable if a tenant sustains an injury.

This type of a situation may arise when a landlord fails to repair property structures such as:

  • Damaged steps;
  • Leaking roofs; or
  • Unstable floorboards.

In these cases, tenants may be injured by things such as:

  • Broken bones, sprains, or strains;
  • Asthma or breathing issues from mold; or
  • Cuts from nails or splinters.

Lead paint may also cause injuries to a tenant for which the landlord may be liable. It is important to note that if lead paint is present, the tenant should be notified.

If it is necessary for a tenant to file a personal injury against a landlord, they must show that the landlord was negligent by failure to provide a safe and habitable rental property. Personal injury claims involving landlord liability fall under the legal theory of premises liability. Similar to other personal injury cases, the elements of negligence generally apply.

Who is Liable for What in the Landlord-Tenant Relationship?

If an individual rents or leases a property, the tenant and the landlord share the liability for that property. Which party is liable for an issue depends, in part, on which party is responsible for the aspect of the property that caused the problem or injury. 

There are several questions to ask when an accident or injury occurs, including:

  • Who has control?
  • What are the terms of the lease? and
  • Who is at fault?

A landlord’s liability includes only those conditions which are under their control. For example, things that are considered to be under the landlord’s control include:

  • The structure of the property;
  • The fixtures; and
  • Other relatively permanent elements of the property.

If the condition of these areas of the property cause an injury to the tenant, the landlord will likely be liable. However, the landlord may not be liable if a part of the property that is under the tenant’s control is the cause of an injury. The tenant controls portions of the property which include:

  • Furniture;
  • Store shelving; and
  • General non-structural maintenance, such as keeping the floor clear of debris.

The terms of the lease may also be a factor in determining the liability of the landlord. Many leases outline who is responsible for what parts of a rental property. 

For example, suppose the least states that the tenant is responsible for the maintenance of the garden. If the tenant permits the garden bushes to overgrow onto the sidewalk and those overgrown bushes cause an injury to a passing pedestrian, then the tenant, not the landlord, is primarily liable for the pedestrian’s injuries.

Similar to other personal injury claims, the fault of the parties factors into determining liability. For example, a landlord may be responsible for ensuring that the electrical system works properly. However, if the tenant misuses that system and their misuse causes the injury, the tenant, not the landlord, may be liable for the damages.

What Do You Have to Show to Win a Premises Liability Case Against a Landlord?

In order to prove a landlord’s negligence, similar to other personal injury cases, the plaintiff must show:

  • Duty;
  • Damages; and 
  • Causation. 

For example, if a tenant is injured because of a loose railing on the stairs, they will have to show that the railing was under the control of the landlord and that the landlord had a duty to keep it secured. The tenant will have to show they actually suffered damages, or an injury or injuries. The tenant will also have to show that the loose railing was the cause of their accident that caused injury.

What Effect does Insurance have on the Whole Situation?

The owner of a property, especially a property is rented out, often wants to protect themselves and their investments with property insurance. If a landlord has landlord’s liability insurance, it may mean that if a tenant is injured, the insurance company will be compensating the tenant for their loss and not the landlord themselves.

In these cases, the claim will be brought against the landlord’s insurance company and not the landlord. The insurance company will likely then attempt to settle the case for the least amount of money possible. 

If the landlord’s insurance company recognizes that there is a valid claim, they may attempt to make a settlement as quickly as possible. However, this may not be in the tenant’s best interests because they may not obtain the amount they deserve.

What Responsibility do Landlords have to Stop Criminal Activity?

Landlords are responsible for making reasonable efforts to keep their tenants safe from criminal activity. This does not mean that the tenant may sue their landlord for every conceivable crime that may occur on the property. 

However, it does mean that the landlord must protect against crime on the premises. They must make a reasonable effort to protect a tenant from being a crime victim on the property. They must also make a reasonable effort to prevent the tenant from committing a crime on the property.

In order to accomplish these requirements, a landlord is required to:

  • Be aware of any known criminal activity in the neighborhood and alert their tenants; 
  • Take appropriate preventative measures to guard their property from crime;
  • Ensure the property meets all local and state building codes. Many of these codes, such as the requirement to have door locks and window locks, exist for security and crime prevention. Therefore, keeping the property up to code serves to protect the tenant from crime;
  • Keep the property properly maintained. Dilapidated conditions may comprise the integrity of the building and the lack of attention to the property may draw the attention of criminals who may think that the property is not being attended to;
  • Carefully screen potential tenants prior to signing a lease;
  • Do not allow individuals who are likely to engage in criminal activity to rent the property; 
  • Quickly respond to any reports of criminal activity on the property;  
  • Quickly repair any damage that occurred to the property as a result of crime;  
  • Take reasonable measures to prevent crime from occurring again;
  • Use extreme care when hiring a manager for the property. A landlord is responsible for hiring a negligent or criminal manager who causes loss or damage to a tenant; and
  • Ensure that the tenants are not engaging in criminal activity.  For example, if a tenant is dealing drugs and the landlord is aware but does nothing about it, the landlord could be held liable for any damage caused by the tenant’s criminal behavior.  In some states, criminal charges can even be brought against the landlord for permitting illegal activity to occur on their property.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Landlord Negligence Claim?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced landlord and tenant lawyer with any landlord negligence claims you may have. If you have been injured on your rental property, you may be able to file a lawsuit against your landlord. 

Personal injury lawsuits that involve landlord-tenant laws can be very complex. A landlord negligence lawyer will be best suited to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

If you are a landlord that has been sued for your tenant’s injury, having an attorney on your case is extremely important. As noted, these cases are complex. Your lawyer can present the best defenses in your case and represent you during any court proceedings.

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