If property left in a state of disrepair injures another person, they may be able to take legal action against the property owner. “Disrepair” is generally defined as a condition that presents a threat of harm or danger to persons who enter the property or to an adjacent land owner. Disrepair could happen because of neglect, failure to repair, faulty construction or decay/dilapidation of the structure.
Some common examples of property in a state of disrepair include:
- Rotting, decaying or damaged wood;
- Rusted pipes;
- Unstable foundations or uneven structures;
- Broken windows;
- Defective sidewalks;
- Unsteady walls or roofs;
- Toxic conditions such as mold or lead; and
- Unrepaired fixtures.
What Duties are Imposed on Property Owners?
A property owner generally has the duty to 1) repair any dangerous conditions that they are aware of and 2) ensure that their property is safe. Most jurisdictions only impose liability against the owner if they knew or should have known about a defective condition present on their property.
Keep in mind that most jurisdictions will also not allow faulty construction as an excuse or defense for the property owner to escape liability for conditions they knew about. However, if you have been injured you should consult with an attorney about your state's laws to determine when property owners will be held liable for injuries caused by disrepaired property.
Can You Lose Your Property If You Leave It in Disrepair?
In extreme cases, where the property is left in serious disrepair to the point where it is falling apart, it is possible for the government to condemn the property for safety reasons. If anyone is living in the property, either the owner or a tenant, then the government can force the individual to move out.
However, the property must be in serious disrepair to be condemned for safety reasons. Like:
- Caved roof;
- Sinking foundation;
- Large holes in the side of the house;
- Sewage leaking;
- Rotting wood; and/or
- Presence of rodents.
Rarely does a property fall to this level of danger and is still occupied. However, if it does and a landlord is profiting from rent, then it is very likely that the landlord will face criminal charges.
If you are a tenant and your landlord has you living in a property that would be otherwise condemned, then you need to contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is important to report your landlord for failing to provide sanitary conditions.
However, keep in mind that the law for what landlords are required to provide varies from state to state, and that landlords are (typically) not required to provide:
- Appliances, like stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, etc.;
- Replace light bulbs in your home; or
- Maintain the garden/yard.
Unless the lease agreement says otherwise, tenants should not expect landlords to do the above.
What Claims Could I have if I am Injured From Property Left in Disrepair?
If you are injured on another person’s property because it was left in disrepair, you may have a claim for negligence against the property owner. As noted above, property owners have a duty to keep their property safe and repaired. If they fail to do so and you are injured, you can file a lawsuit against them. Some damages you could recover is reimbursement for medical bills or the value of your personal property that was damaged.
You also could have a claim for nuisance against a property owner who knowingly leaves their property in a state of disrepair. Nuisance may be found where a property owner is deprived of their right to use or enjoy their property because of something on another person’s property that is acting as an interference. For example, if a wall has not been repaired and is threatening to fall on a neighbor’s property, the neighbor could bring a nuisance lawsuit.
Property that is in disrepair may also come up in the context of landlord and tenant rights. Generally, rental leases will contain a clause that imposes the duty to keep the property habitable and in good repair.
Do I Need to Consult an Attorney?
Property that is left in disrepair can present safety hazards and may cause significant injuries to a guest or neighbor. If you have been injured on another person’s property because it was left in a state of disrepair, you should contact a personal injury attorney near you to learn your rights. An attorney can also help you file a lawsuit and attempt settlement of your claim.