Personal injury claims involving landlord liability come under the umbrella of Premises Liability and like other personal injury cases, the elements of negligence generally apply.

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

If you rent or lease, you and your landlord share the liability for that property.  Who is liable for what depends in part on who is responsible for the aspect of the property that caused the problem.  There are a few questions you must ask when accidents happen: 

  • Who has control? The landlord’s liability includes only the conditions which are under his or her control.  For example, the structure of the property, the fixtures, and other relatively permanent elements of the property are considered to be under the landlord’s control, and the landlord will probably be liable if they cause hazardous conditions that cause injury or loss.  The landlord may not be responsible for the elements of the property that are under the leaser’s control, such as the furniture, store shelving, and general non-structural maintenance, like keeping the floor free of debris. 
  • What are the terms of the lease? Terms of the lease also may also determine the landlord’s liability because the lease may state who is responsible for what parts of the property.  Perhaps the lease states that the leaser will be responsible for the maintenance of the garden.  If the tenant allows the bushes to overgrow onto the sidewalk and the overgrown bushes cause injury to a passing pedestrian, then the tenant, not the landlord will be primarily liable.
  • Who is at fault?  As with other personal injury claims, the fault of the parties also factors into deciding liability.  For example, the landlord may be responsible for making sure that the electrical system works properly, but if the tenant misuses the electrical system and that misuse causes injury, then the tenant may be liable for the damages.

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

Like other personal injury cases, you will have to show duty, damage and causation.  For example, in an a case where you were hurt by the railing on your stairs coming loose, you will have to show that the railing was under the control of the landlord and that it was his duty to keep it properly secured.  You will have to show that you actually suffered damage.  You will have to show that the damage you incurred resulted from the landlords failure to keep the railing secured. 

What Effect Does Insurance Have on the Whole Situation?

Property owners often protect themselves and their investment with property insurance.  This may mean that if your landlord is liable for damage caused to you, it will be his insurance company that compensates you for your loss, rather than the landlord himself.  So a claim against a landlord will actually be brought against his insurance company.  The insurance company will likely try to pay out the least amount of money possible.  If the insurance company recognizes that you have a valid claim they may try to settle right away.  However this may not be in your best interest because the amount they may feel obligated to pay may not be what is legally fair to you. 

What Responsibility Do Landlords Have To Stop Criminal Activity?

Landlords have a responsibility to make a reasonable effort to keep their tenants safe from crime.  This does not mean that a tenant can sue his landlord for every conceivable crime that occurs on the property, but it does mean that the landlord/property owner must protect against crime on the premises.  They must make a reasonable effort to protect their tenants from being victims of crime on the property and to prevent their tenants from committing crimes on the property.  To do this landlords are obligated to: 

  • Educate themselves and their tenants about any known criminal activity in the neighborhood and take appropriate preventative measures to guard their property from crime.
  • Make sure the property meets all local and state building codes.  Many codes, like the requirement to have door locks and window locks, exist for security and crime prevention, so keeping the property up to code serves to protect the renter from crime.
  • Keep proper maintenance of the property.  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 no one is paying attention.
  • Carefully screen possible tenants before signing a lease, and don’t lease to people who are likely to be criminals. 
  • Quickly respond to any reports of criminal activity on the premises.  Quickly repair any damage occurring to the property as a result of crime.  Take measures to prevent the crime from occurring again.
  • Take extreme care when hiring a manager for the property.  The landlord is responsible for hiring a negligent or criminal manager who causes loss or damage to the tenants.
  • Be sure that their tenants are not engaged in criminal activity.  For example, if a tenant is dealing drugs and the landlord knows, 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 his property.