Property Structures in Disrepair

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 What Legal Action is Available for Property Left in Disrepair?

Property that is left in a state of disrepair can create serious risks. For instance, if property is left in a state of disrepair and it injures another person, then the injured party may be able to take legal action against the owner of the run-down property.

In general, the term “disrepair” refers to a specific condition that presents a risk of harm or danger to persons who enter either the property in question or the property of an adjacent property owner. A condition of disrepair can happen for a number of reasons, such as neglect, faulty construction materials, failure to repair, abandonment of the property, or if the structure itself is in decay.

Some common examples of property that would be considered as left in a state of disrepair include the following:

  • When a property has rusty heat or water pipes;
  • If there are broken windows on the property;
  • When the walls or roof of a property have holes in them;
  • If the property has defective sidewalks or stairwells;
  • When a property has unrepaired fixtures (e.g., wall sconces, ceiling fans, etc.);
  • If the property was built upon an unstable foundation or now has uneven structures;
  • When the property is in decay, has damaged wood, or rot; and/or
  • If the property contains toxic conditions or chemicals that are not treated, such as black mold or lead. 

As you can see, many of these examples can lead to serious harm. For example, if a person visited a property that had rotting wood floors or wooden stairs and they were not aware of the conditions, they could potentially step on the wrong spot, fall through, and hurt themselves very badly.

Thus, it is important that property owners always take care to maintain any property that they own, including the surrounding premises like if the property has a porch attached. Neglecting to fix an issue that poses a real threat to others when it first appears could have potentially devastating effects. Not only could your failure to repair a property injure another person, but that person could also file a lawsuit against you for monetary damages.

If you are already facing a lawsuit for injuries resulting from property left in disrepair or if you believe that you are about to be sued for this reason, then it may be in your best interest to consult a local property attorney for further advice.

What Duties are Imposed on Property Owners?

There are many duties that are imposed on a property owner. However, there are two duties in particular that nearly all property owners must obey. These two duties include:

  1. The duty to repair any dangerous conditions that the property owner is aware of; and 
  2. The duty to ensure that their property is safe.

The majority of jurisdictions have passed certain property laws that will permit an injured party to hold a property owner liable for any injuries resulting from a property structure that has been left in a state of disrepair. There is one important exception to this general rule of thumb and it is that liability can be imposed against a property owner, but only if the property owner knew or should have known about a defective condition on their property.

In addition, it should also be noted that most jurisdictions will not allow a property owner to claim faulty construction as an excuse or defense to escape liability for conditions they already knew or should have known about that were present on their property. 

Again, the majority of jurisdictions have enacted property laws regarding these issues. Whether or not a property owner can be held liable for injuries caused by property left in a state of disrepair, will largely depend on the laws in a specific jurisdiction. Thus, it might be best for a property owner or a party who has been injured by a dangerous condition on a property to consult with an attorney about their particular state’s laws.

Can You Lose Your Property If You Leave It in Disrepair?

In extreme cases, it is possible to lose property that is left in disrepair. For instance, if a property is decaying to the point that it is literally falling apart, then it may be possible for a state or local government agency to condemn the property for safety reasons. Also, if anyone is residing on the property, such as a tenant or the owner of the property, the government will be allowed to force the individual to vacate the premises.

Keep in mind, however, that the property must be in a state of exceptional disrepair for the property to be condemned by a government agency for safety reasons. Some defective conditions that could cause a person to lose their property include:

  • The property has a roof that is either collapsing or has already collapsed;
  • A structure on the property has a sinking foundation (e.g., a house);
  • The sewage lines on the property are leaking;
  • There is rotting wood or other signs of decay on the property; 
  • The property has rodents or pests; and/or
  • There are large holes on the outside walls of the property structure (e.g., a house or building).

It is very rare for a property to reach this stage of disrepair and still have persons residing in it. However, if for some reason there are people living on a property with defective conditions and a landlord is making a profit off of charging them rent, then there is a strong likelihood that the landlord will be facing criminal charges if caught.

If a tenant finds themselves in this situation, then they should contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) and report the landlord right away. In most instances, a landlord can be punished for failing to provide sanitary conditions. It should be noted, however, that the law regarding what landlords are required to provide to tenants will vary by state. 

For example, unless a tenant’s lease agreement says otherwise, most states do not mandate that a landlord provide the following items:

  • Appliances (e.g., stoves, dishwashers, microwaves, refrigerators, etc.);
  • Light bulbs or other standard household items that can easily be replaced by a tenant;
  • Maintenance on a yard or garden; and/or
  • Damages caused by the tenant, their pet, or a guest.

What Claims Could I have if I am Injured From Property Left in Disrepair?

If a person is injured from property left in disrepair, then they may be able to file a lawsuit against the property owner based on a claim for negligence. As previously mentioned, property owners have a duty to maintain their property and keep it safe from defective conditions. If a property owner fails to obey these duties and a person is injured on their property due to their lack of action, then the injured party can sue them in court.

Another type of claim that a person could potentially bring against a property owner who knowingly leaves their property in a state of disrepair is a claim for nuisance. A claim for nuisance might arise when a property owner is doing some activity on their property that interferes with another person’s right to use or enjoy their own property.

An example of a nuisance condition would be if a person has neglected to repair a wall or roof that is threatening to collapse onto their next-door neighbor’s property. In this instance, the next-door neighbor could file a nuisance lawsuit against that person.

Additionally, issues involving property left in disrepair may also arise in the context of landlord and tenant rights. Generally speaking, a lease agreement will typically contain a clause that requires a landlord to make necessary repairs and ensure that a property maintains habitable living conditions, or else they can be sued by an affected tenant.

Do I Need to Consult an Attorney?

As is evident from the above discussion, property that is left in a state of disrepair can present many dangers, such as safety hazards or threats to one’s health, that can cause significant injuries to a guest visiting the property or a next-door neighbor. Thus, as a property owner, it is your duty to fix any dangerous conditions on your property or the surrounding premises the moment you detect them. Otherwise, you could be held liable for the damages it causes.

Therefore, if you need help defending yourself against a lawsuit for a property left in disrepair or if you have been injured on another person’s property due to certain conditions of disrepair, then you should contact a local property attorney as soon as possible. An experienced property attorney will already be familiar with the relevant laws in your area and can inform you of your options for legal recourse.

Your attorney can help you prepare a case against a property owner, or alternatively, if you are the property owner who is being sued, your attorney can research legal defenses that may be available to you. Additionally, your attorney can advise you of your rights under the law, regardless of which party you are in the lawsuit. 

Finally, your attorney can negotiate on your behalf with the other party’s counsel during a mediation or negotiation session, as well as will be able to provide legal representation in court should the issue get to that point.

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