Landlords make their living by renting out residential and commercial properties. When they lease out this property, they grant both rights and responsibilities for the care of the property to the tenant. One question that often remains for landlords is: Am I liable for injuries on leased property? Premises liability law controls this question, as does landlord/tenant law in Louisiana and Texas.
Here, we discuss which situations could result in the landlord being held responsible for injuries on their property. We also provide some helpful tips to follow after an accident.
Premises Liability for Landlords
To help understand your potential liability as a landlord, you need a basic understanding of premises liability law. Landlords often owe tenants and their guests a reasonable duty of care under a premises liability theory. This includes the reasonable duty to create a safe property for visitors, warn of known dangers, and fix known issues.
Who Is Owed a Reasonable Duty of Care on Your Property?
The level of care you owe will depend on the legal status of the visitor. A person invited to the property is an invitee or licensee and is typically entitled to a reasonable duty of care. However, trespassers are generally not owed a reasonable duty of care. Instead, they are typically only protected from wanton or willful conduct of the property owner.
When Is a Landlord Negligent?
You will be at fault for an accident on your leased property if it is determined that your negligence caused the accident. Negligence is a breach of the applicable duty of care you have as a property owner and as a landlord. It is a violation of the care an ordinary person would take under similar circumstances.
A negligent landlord may be liable for a tenant’s or their guests’ injuries if the actions or inactions of that landlord are to blame for the accident. Some of the most common cases of landlord negligence include the following:
Failing to Fix Dangerous Conditions
If you know of a dangerous condition on your property, you must fix it. This obligation comes both from premises liability common law and landlord/tenant regulations under state law. If the dangerous condition injures the tenant or their guests, you could be liable for these injuries and their associated costs.
Dangerous conditions common on leased premises often include:
- Defective staircases
- Broken handrails
- Tripping hazards or holes
- Broken fences
- Dangerous appliances
- Lack of safety equipment such as smoke detectors or fire extinguishers
- Lack of appropriate lighting
You may even be responsible for hazards you do not know about. If you fail to conduct a reasonable inspection or properly maintain the property, you could be deemed to know about hazards you should have known about if you exercised reasonable diligence. This is a highly subjective standard, and determining whether you are liable will depend on the facts of your situation.
Failure To Warn Others of a Known Risk
If a landlord knows of a risk, they have a duty to warn others of it to help prevent injuries. The tenant should be warned of the danger to avoid getting hurt. This also lets the tenant warn others of the risk. Consider posting warning signs for any known danger.
Consider using written notices so that you have proof that you provided warnings about the hazard. You should also consider posting a warning sign so that tenants and visitors are notified of the danger. Next, you should work on fixing the known risk. Simply warning of it may provide temporary protection against liability, but failure to improve the problem long-term could result in liability for any related injuries.
The Accident Was Foreseeable
In most premises liability cases, the accident must be foreseeable for a landlord to be held responsible. The accident must arise from a hazard and circumstances that a reasonable person could expect to occur under those facts. This does not mean you must know of the hazard necessarily, but that if you had known you could reasonably be expected to anticipate this type of harm.
Most hazards that cause harm are considered foreseeable for landlords. For example, a broken staircase could foreseeably cause a person to trip and fall down the stairs. Severe injuries are also foreseeable from a slip and fall accident. This could mean you, as the landlord, are responsible for these types of harm.
What To Do After an Accident on Your Property
If an accident happens on a property you have leased, you should take these steps to help protect your legal rights:
- Get Medical Attention: Call 911 if you are present to help ensure any injured person receives the care they need. If you were absent, learn what medical attention the injured person received after their accident.
- Do Not Admit Fault: Never admit fault for an accident without the advice of your attorney. Many tenants may blame their accident on something that did not cause the accident. The injured person may be wholly or partially at fault for the accident. Admitting fault could create liability for you when none otherwise exists.
- Document Everything: Take notes about what the injured person claims caused their accident. Take pictures or videos of the hazard, the area where the accident occurred, and anything else that might be helpful. Write down the names and contact information of anyone injured and any witnesses to the accident.
- Speak to an Attorney: Consult a personal injury attorney immediately if an accident occurs on your leased property. Whether you own commercial or residential property, you must protect your rights. These laws are highly complex, and you may have defenses that negate your liability.
Protect Yourself From Liability for Leased Premises
A landlord is tasked with maintaining a safe property and using reasonable care. By warning of known dangers and fixing them as soon as possible, you can reduce the risk of liability from your properties.