Being a landlord, by choice or by economic coercion, can be a very risky proposition.
It can be profitable, but for every nice reward there comes risk. And in this case, the risk of liability for a tenant’s injuries or damage to a tenant’s property can be high.
Based on legal precedent, if you are a landlord, you will have the potential for a lot of liability with your rental property if you do not have it in good safety and maintenance condition, or you don’t take reasonable care to mitigate any risks in a timely fashion.
Even a clumsy tenant could sue you if there is any condition on the property that could be deemed unsafe where there was a reasonable expectation that an injury would occur if that hazard was not addressed.
Liability from a property
For example, if you as a landlord do not inform a new tenant of all the safety or maintenance issues on the property ahead of time, and something happens, you could be held responsible. If you do not do proper maintenance to put in the appropriate safety measures on a property before you rent it and something happens, you could be liable.
Let’s say you are renting out your old house because the housing market doesn’t allow you to sell it yet. You have a backyard pool with no fence or gate around it, because you never had young children over. There is a lock broken on one of the windows, but you’ve never had trouble with any break-ins before, but you mention these anyway to the tenants.
The next thing you hear, there is a police report filed on your property that someone broke into the house through the window with the broken lock, and then you hear that the young couple which was living there lost a nephew to drowning in the pool.
Make sure you secure your house
Because you knew about the broken lock on the window and didn’t fix it, and you knew about the lack of safety features around the pool and didn’t take care of it, the tenants could sue you for negligence in both cases, despite the fact you told them of the issues beforehand. As a landlord, that house is your property, and the liability for anything that happens on that property falls on you, not on the tenants. You have the legal obligation to take reasonable care that the unit or property is safe and livable for all who stay or visit there.
The liability is similar to if you were the property owner living on the property and you were to have friends over for a pool party or had a friend sleep over in that room with the broken window lock, and something similar happens in either of those cases. The property owner is liable for most things that happen on that property, especially those things which could have been foreseen and prevented.
When you are not on the property full-time, you have to be even more diligent in making sure the property is maintained properly and is safe for anyone who lives or visits there. In other words, to keep from being liable for injuries or damage to tenant property, make sure you fix everything that needs to be fixed in a timely manner, and if there are safety concerns either by you or the tenant, address those as quickly as possible. And most important, make sure you keep records of all the work that is done and have copies for your files and for the tenant so there is no confusion should something happen. Maintenance and safety reports on a property will be vitally important should there be a claim made.
Without reasonable care of your property and proper insurance coverage, you could have a liability judgement against you that exceeds the value of the property – for not only actual damages, but also emotional damage, lost wages, legal fees, not to mention punitive damages if it is determined by local safety officers that the property was unsafe and did not comply with certain local codes or regulations for safety.
Time is money, and the longer you take to fix a problem, the more expensive it can be. Don’t make a million-dollar mistake. Even informing a tenant of issues beforehand doesn’t relieve you of liability. Only fixing the risks will do that.
Randall F. Rogers is a personal injury lawyer that practices in the small suburb of Marietta, outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Originally working at a large firm, he left to work on his own, so he could work closing with individuals and help them seek justice. When not walking to and from the court house, he can be seen discussing gardening with the community or reading a book from his favorite author Henry David Thoreau.