Absent a contractual modification, the law generally holds that a Landlord is not liable for injuries sustained on a rented property during the term of the lease. There are, however, a few exceptions based on the theory that at times the Landlord is in a better position than the Tenant to prevent a certain injury.
First, a Landlord always has a duty to disclose latent defects which the landlord either knows or has reason to know of. A latent defect is a defect that the Tenant does not know of and a reasonable person in the Tenant’s position would not discover. For instance, if the Landlord knows that a floor is suffering from termite damage, the Landlord will likely be liable should the Tenant suffer harm.
A second exception exists for common passageways that are under the control of the Landlord. An example of a common area would be a hallway or stairwell in a multi-unit rental building. If the rug is in disrepair or if the ceiling collapses, those are injuries for which the Landlord will need to assume responsibility.
One of the most common exceptions is that of the “negligent repair.” Courts treat a Landlord’s conduct in voluntarily undertaking to make a repair (that later results in injury) as creating a deceptive appearance of safety. In these cases an injured party can seek damages against a Landlord.
Finally, there is the “public use” exception. If a Landlord knows of major defects, knows that the Tenant will not fix the defect, and knows that the public will be using the property, then the Landlord can be found liable. In many commercial leases there is an indemnification clause whereby a Tenant agrees to defend the Landlord in the event of such an occurrence.
Aside from these specific exceptions a Landlord will be shielded in the event a Tenant or occupant is injured. As such, it is always a good idea to thoroughly inspect a property prior to occupation and fully outline the Landlord’s repair responsibilities in the lease. If you have any questions regarding premises liability, please do not hesitate to contact our office.