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Landlord Liability

Many people who rent a house, condominium, or apartment may not be aware of their rights if they incur severe injury on their rented property. The property owner or insurance adjuster may try to convince them feel there is little or nothing they can do. Those who do not understand the deeper implication of landlord liability may decline to pursue litigation out of fear they will be evicted.

However, the cost associated with crippling injury can drain your life savings and put your family’s future in peril. You do have a right to seek compensation in some circumstances.

What is Landlord Liability

Landlord liability is a form of premises liability that holds a property owner accountable for injuries that are sustained by residents or even pedestrians on the owner’s property; for example, someone who trips and falls on a cracked sidewalk. Other types of dangers, such as faulty wiring or toxic mold are also categorized under landlord liability.

Property owners have a legal responsibility to maintain the property so it is safe and suitable for human habitation. If they fail in this duty, and residents are hurt, they can be held legally responsible, or liable.

About Landlord Liability

An apartment or property owner (landlord or lessor) who leases an apartment can be held liable to the tenant (lessee) and the tenant’s guests for dangerous conditions existing in the apartment unit that the landlord does not inform the tenant about and the dangerous condition is not obvious.

Before leasing an apartment unit to a prospective tenant, the apartment owner has a duty to ensure it is safe from dangerous conditions based on what a reasonable inspection would normally disclose. The landlord is not required to take extraordinary measures to discover every potential hazard unless the circumstances justify it.

If a dangerous condition arises in the apartment unit that the tenant promptly reports to the landlord, the landlord must repair it within a reasonable period of time after learning of the dangerous condition.

A landlord generally is not liable for dangerous condition in the tenant’s apartment that come into existence after the tenant takes possession: that is, the dangerous condition is created by the tenant, unless the tenant has not reported it to the landlord.

Property owners have a legal obligation (“duty”) to use due care for the safety of its tenants and their guests to keep those areas of the property under their control in a reasonably safe condition. This includes such common areas as sidewalks, walkways, pool, spa, tennis courts, elevators, stairways, landscaping, etc.

For instance, if the landlord leaves a water hose across a sidewalk in an unlit area, and a tenant or guest trips on it in the dark, the landlord can be held liable for the resulting injuries and related expenses.

The owner of an apartment complex can be held liable for the damages resulting from injuries due to:

  • Failing to make a promised repair to a faulty condition in the unit in a timely manner
  • The repair is made in a careless or negligent manner
  • Not informing the tenant of a dangerous condition that is not apparent to the tenant at the time the lease is made
  • Violating the law

Suppose the apartment complex has a pool without a fence around it. If your state requires fencing around the pool, and a child drowns there, the landlord can be held liable for the child’s wrongful death.

Suppose the landlord agrees to let the tenant keep a dog in the apartment, but one day the dog gets out and mauls a small child. Is the landlord liable for the child’s injuries? The landlord can be held liable only if it can be shown that the landlord had actual knowledge of the dog’s presence and its vicious nature.

In certain circumstances the landlord can be held liable for injuries to tenants or their guests resulting from altercations with other tenants. A landlord has a duty to keep its tenants reasonably safe from assaults by other tenants. Suppose one tenant physically assaults another tenant several times. The victimized tenant reports the assaults to the managers on at least six occasions. The managers assured her they would take care of the problem, but nothing is ever done. Finally, one day the abusive tenant causes severe injuries to the victimized tenant. Can the landlord be held liable for the injuries?

Yes. In one case, the landlord knew of the danger posed by the abusive tenant, and made a promise to the victim to rectify the situation, but did nothing. The court held that the landlord had a duty to evict the abusive tenant and was liable for the victim’s injuries.

Landowners are responsible for maintaining their property in a reasonably safe condition. This includes protecting  tenants from foreseeable third party criminal assaults. Suppose a tenant is assaulted or raped on the apartment’s grounds by an unidentified criminal. Can the landlord be held liable to the tenant for his or her injuries?

The test is one of “foreseeability,” that is, whether the landlord could have reasonably anticipated that a tenant would have been raped, robbed, or assault on the apartment’s grounds. One major consideration is whether this was the first time such a thing had occurred or whether there had been prior similar incidents on the apartment grounds. Where the risk of criminal assaults or other illegal conduct is great, and the cost to the landlord to prevent such attacks is relatively minor, the landlord has a duty to take preventive measures.

In one case, there had been three vicious criminal assaults within two years in the common areas of an apartment complex. The plaintiff was subsequently shot during a carjacking. The court held that there was a reasonably foreseeable risk of violent criminal assaults on the property, which impose on the landlords a duty to provide at least minimal security measures.

On the other hand, where the risk of illegal activity is minor, and the cost to the landlord is great, the landlord may not be required to implement measures to protect the tenants.

A lawsuit for personal injuries can also be based on the fraud or misrepresentation of the landlord or his or her employees, such as the apartment’s manager or the leasing agent. An example is when a landlord or rental agent falsely tells prospective tenants there is no crime in the area, with the intent of deceiving them into renting there. If a tenant, justifiably relying on the truth of the statement, decides to take a walk in the evening in a neighborhood that is actually rife with crime. The tenant is mugged and severely beaten. The tenant’s conduct was based on this reliance on the fraudulent claim, and the injury is a direct result, so the person who made that claim subject to liability for the medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and any other damages related to that injury.

Determining Accountability

Not every injury can be a product of landlord liability.

An injured tenant must prove that the carelessness (or “negligence”) of the landlord was a “substantial factor” in causing their injuries. For example, if a tenant is assaulted by an attacker who gained access to the property, landlords will argue that nothing they could have done could have prevented it. The assailant could have accessed the apartment several ways and hidden in any number of places.

In one case, the court ruled that the tenant could not show the landlord’s failure to provide increased daytime security at each entrance gate would have prevented the attack.

In another case, the tenant contended that her injuries could have been prevented if the landlord had hired roving security guards to patrol the entire premises day and night. The court found that, aside from the inordinate expense, the argument was entirely speculative, as crimes often occur despite the presence of the highest level of security. The court noted that “a 300-unit, 28-building apartment complex contains many rooms, entries, garages, and other spaces where a rape could take place despite extensive security patrols.”

Seek Legal Advice

Regardless of what your landlord or insurance adjusters tell you, it is always worthwhile to talk to an attorney to find out if you have a case. For instance, if a sidewalk becomes slick because it is raining, someone injured in a fall may not have a good case to sue the landlord. However, if the slippery conditions were caused by an abruptly sloped sidewalk that tenants had complained about many times, that changes things.

If you feel you have a claim, contact the experienced premises liability lawyers at TorkLaw.

If we take your case, we can help you obtain appropriate and thorough medical care for your physical, emotional, and psychological injuries. We will also do everything possible to ensure that you obtain full compensation for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish, property damage, lost wages, psychological injuries, loss of society and comfort (“loss of consortium”), and all other injuries and damages.

Call us today, toll free at 888.845.9696 for a free, no obligation case consultation. One of our expert personal injury lawyers will review your case with you and provide you with the our expert advice.

We understand the physical, financial, emotional, and psychological toll a significant injury or death that an apartment-related injury or death can take on the injured victim and his or her family. Put our experience, reputation, and track record of success on your side, so you can put yourself on the road to greater financial security.

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