Landlordï¿½s Liability for Dangerous Conditions on Rentals
UPDATED: January 20, 2020
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Landlords are liable for dangerous conditions on the property they own if they knew or should have known about the danger. For example, if the concrete blocks in the sidewalk leading up to an apartment building are uneven and the landlord has visited the building and had the opportunity to see the sidewalk or if the tenants have complained, the landlord knows or should know of the problem and must fix it. If he or she doesn’t and an elderly guest of a tenant trips and breaks a hip, the landlord will be liable. It is always a good idea for tenants to inform the landlord in writing of any possibly dangerous conditions either in the rented unit or in the common areas of a number of rentals, and to keep copies of those letters. Landlords should make repairs as quickly as possible.
The dangerous conditions don’t have to be physical problems with the building. They can include other things, like vicious dogs or dangerous activities of tenants. If the landlord has seen a dangerous dog or been told about the problem and doesn’t take action to evict the tenant or force the tenant to get rid of or control the dog, the landlord could be held liable if the dog injures or kills someone. If the landlord knows a tenant is using a blowtorch to do body work on a car in the common driveway, he or she could be liable for any injury the tenant causes if the landlord has not taken all possible action to stop the tenant.
To be held liable for injuries or damage the landlord has to have been negligent in some way. For example, if there’s a snowstorm followed by a thaw and a freeze, so that the sidewalks are covered with ice, the landlord won’t be responsible if a tenant slips and falls. The landlord can’t control the weather. If the tenant’s child runs the hose during a freeze to make a skating rink and mom falls and breaks a leg, that isn’t the landlord’s fault. On the other hand, if there is some problem with the slope of a sidewalk that makes it dangerous in normal winter weather for the area, the landlord will be liable if he or she doesn’t repair the problem and someone is injured. In the case of the mean dog, if the landlord has given the tenant the notice to get rid of the dog that is required by the relevant state law and the dog bites someone before the notice period is up, the landlord probably won’t be liable. He or she will have done everything possible under the law.
A landlord may be held liable for dangers he or she has no actual knowledge of. For example, if the wiring of a house is very old and the owner doesn’t have it checked, he or she might be held liable to someone who is injured by a shock or a fire. If the owner doesn’t have a chimney cleaned for many years and the tenant is damaged or injured by a flue fire, the landlord will probably be liable, even if he or she didn’t actually know the chimney was clogged. A reasonable person would check old wiring and clean a chimney.
Tenants or others who are injured by dangerous conditions on the landlord’s property should consult a personal injury lawyer for advice.