Landlord Liability for Tenant Injuries
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Property owners owe a duty to (a) renters and (b) others who come onto their property. This varies with the identity of the person who comes in, and why they enter the property. This discussion will focus only on (a), renters.
This duty requires landlords to take care to prevent injury to their tenants. (Note: the duty to use reasonable care is “non-delegable,” meaning that the landlord cannot avoid or contract away the landlord’s responsibility.)
Landlords always have at least some duty to their tenants—a duty to use or show reasonable care so as to prevent injuries. Depending on the terms of the lease, the duty can be made even stronger if the landlord voluntarily took on certain maintenance or repair obligations beyond the norm. However, it is not an absolute duty—landlords do not incur strict liability, which means that they are not automatically liable whenever a tenant is injured on the premises. Instead, whether or not the landlord fulfilled their duty is analyzed using the “negligence” standard.
Example: say that a stair rail or banister is loose. A reasonable person who was aware of it (or who should reasonably have been aware of it) would fix the rail, so that someone doesn’t lean on it and fall. A landlord who knew or had reason to know that the railing was loose, and did nothing, would likely be liable to an injured tenant.
Issue: Did the landlord apply the level of care that a reasonable person would have? If the landlord fails to meet this “reasonable standard of care” and a tenant was injured as a result of this failure, then the tenant has an excellent case, at least at first glance, for negligence. The tenant's claim may include damages for:
- Medical costs—the cost of treatment, to the extent not paid by the tenant’s health insurance.
- Lost wages—income lost from not being able to work.
- Reduced wages—if the tenant suffers lost wages or income opportunity, these are reasonably foreseeable and recoverable.
- Pain and suffering—if there’s significant disability or disfigurement, the tenant may be able to receive compensation for it.
Most states have passed some version of the RLTA: the Residential Landlord Tenant Act. The practical effect of the statute is to broaden landlord responsibility into a “general duty of reasonable care.” There are also a number of tenant or landlord advocacy groups in each state, explaining the myriad differences in the RLTA from state to state. If you are a renter and were injured due to your landlord's negligence, you should seek the advice of a personal injury attorney who specializes in premises liability to determine if the landlord is responsible for some or all of the costs of your injury.