Landlords usually have enough to worry about between managing various properties and ensuring tenants are paying rent on time, but should they also be concerned about personal injury lawsuits?
The short answer is YES. Landlords are generally responsible for keeping their properties reasonably well-maintained and in good repair for their tenants and guests. Injuries that stem from a landlord’s failure to exercise such care could result in legal liability.
How is it that landlords are held legally responsible for personal injuries to tenants?
The predominant legal theory governing this area of law is called Negligence. Negligence refers to the landlord’s failure to meet the standard of care in the given circumstances – in other words, what a reasonable landlord would do in such a case. When a landlord fails to exercise a reasonable amount of care related to the maintenance or repair of the property, and an injury was directly or proximately caused by such failure, he/she can be held liable.
What is a “reasonable” standard of care for a landlord?
Usually what counts as “reasonable” is a matter of common sense. For instance, landlords should take care to salt icy stairwells and walkways and ensure that all apartment units have working smoke alarms. However, sometimes what’s “reasonable” is less obvious, such as whether a landlord has provided adequate lighting in common areas or the parking lot of a building, or whether the landlord should have informed tenants about a past assault or other criminal activity in the building.
Some states and cities have laws that further establish the level of care a landlord must use. Consult a skilled Chicago IL landlord and tenant lawyer for those that apply where you live.
What are some things landlords can do to protect themselves from personal injury lawsuits brought by tenants?
The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a good one here. The key thing for landlords is to keep tenants from being injured on the property by taking the steps necessary to best ensure safe conditions. Here is a short checklist of things a landlord could do to start protecting against personal injury liability:
- Check all stairs and stairwells for loose or defective handrails and other hazards
- Ensure that all apartment units and common areas have working smoke detectors
- Check to make sure that all units have working door locks, and that building entryways prevent public access as well
- During the winter (where applicable), regularly de-ice all walkways, stairs, sidewalks, and other common areas to prevent falls
- Consider imposing weight or breed restrictions on dogs allowed in the building
- Routinely check all lighting in the common areas and ensure adequate exterior lighting (minimize blind spots)
- Make sure the emergency exits are clear and accessible in the event they are needed
- Inform tenants of any dangerous conditions you know of on the property (i.e. – a well, large tree root or other tripping hazards,
- Depending on the jurisdiction, re-key apartment units between tenants
- Regularly inspect the apartment units and fix any damages or defects reported by tenants in a timely and professional manner
Obviously, personal injuries to tenants are not entirely preventable, but if a landlord has exercised a reasonable standard of care in maintaining the apartment and building in which the injury took place, he/she is less likely to be held responsible for those injuries.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from William Mazur Attorney at Law for their insight into liability involved in landlord tenant cases.