Let’s say that you rent your home and at some point you slip and fall on an uneven cement walkway leading up to your door. If you weren’t seriously hurt, you’d probably stand up, mutter darkly about how the house and walkway need repairs, and go on with your day without giving the incident another thought. But what if you seriously injured yourself in the fall and needed medical attention? In that case, you might put some more thought into that cement walkway and who is at fault for the accident. You were the one who tripped and fell, but your landlord was the one who failed to make the walkway safe. So here’s the question: can your landlord be liable for this type of accident?
With more and more Americans renting instead of owning their homes, questions regarding landlord responsibilities and liability are becoming more pressing than ever. Here’s a brief look at some of the things you need to know about accident liability if you’re one of the many Americans who rents.
When you first sign your lease, you and your landlord are entering into an agreement in regards to both of your responsibilities, but landlords also have certain legal duties even if they are not explicitly laid out in that lease. For example, Nevada law requires landlords to keep their property in a habitable condition, meaning that it can’t be in violation of any housing or health codes. Some of their duties include making sure plumbing, electrical outlets, and electrical lighting are in good working order. Landlords are also responsible for making sure floors, walls, ceilings,stairways, and railings are well-maintained in order to prevent accidents.
The tenant’s responsibilities are mainly based on the terms of their rental agreement, but the tenant also has certain basic legal obligations. Most of these obligations are common sense: the tenant needs to use appliances and electronics in a safe and reasonable manner, keep the premises safe and reasonably clean, and refrain from destroying or defacing any part of the property. Therefore, if you had an accident involving sticking a fork in an electrical outlet or throwing out your back after swinging a jack hammer at the wall, you’re the liable one (and would likely have a lot of explaining to do to an angry landlord).
Tenants should always read their rental agreements carefully, as their landlord may place responsibility for certain maintenance and repair tasks on them. For example, let’s say that you agree to maintain the lawn on the property. But you fail to do so and end up tripping and falling over the tall grass. In that case, it would be pretty hard to make the case that the landlord is responsible for the accident.
In order to hold their landlord legally liable for their accident, a tenant needs to be able to prove the following things:
1. It was the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the part of the property that caused the accident.
2. The landlord failed to take steps to avert the problem.
3. The tenant’s injury was caused because the landlord did not fix the problem.
4. The tenant was genuinely hurt.
Landlords can also be legally culpable for putting their tenants in an unsafe or unhealthy environment. In one recent case that has gotten a lot of attention, residents of a Glen Iris rooming house sued their landlords for failing to meet minimum standards, such as repairing smoke detectors,repairing roof leaks, and providing exterior lighting. The rooming house had 30 male tenants and was described by residents as a “cesspool.” It’s almost surprising that there weren’t specific injuries or medical problems caused by the negligence of the landlords, and the tenants here were clearly within their rights to seek legal action against the property owners.
What Tenants Need to Do
It’s best to have a good relationship with your landlord, so before you sign a lease and rental agreement, make sure that you’ve toured the property, talked to the landlord in person, and carefully read through all the important documents. You should also make copies of those documents and file them away in case you do need them in a legal dispute later.
Whenever possible, try to resolve any issues with your landlord on your own before taking legal action. However, if the two of you cannot reach an agreement and you feel that your safety and health are in danger, it’s important that you know your rights and take the appropriate actions.
About the Author
Andrew Y.Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.