Most landlords are aware they could be liable for injuries and damages resulting from unsafe conditions on their property. Typical examples include a tenant slipping on a patch of ice or falling down broken steps after the landlord has been notified of the dangerous condition and failed to resolve it.
But there are other potential liabilities that aren't the typical "slip and fall" situation. Five surprising landlord liabilities are briefly described here.
Landlords are generally not liable if a tenant's dog bites someone unless they knew the dog is dangerous (i.e. they know the dog has bitten someone before) and could have had the animal removed.
Suggestions: The simplest action would be to prohibit dogs in the lease. If you want to be dog-friendly, consider adding the following terms to the lease:
Landlords have some responsibility to protect their tenants from criminal activity on their property. Tenants have sued landlords for failing to take reasonable steps to protect them from crime, especially when the landlords were aware that a similar crime already occurred in that location.
Suggestions: Take reasonable and necessary steps to make sure your property is safe.
Landlords also have a responsibility to protect the neighborhood from the criminal activities of their tenants. Landlords can be sued for public nuisance, and law enforcement and government authorities can impose fines or seek criminal penalties against a landlord who allows drug dealing on his or her property.
Suggestions: Find tenants who are not likely to commit crimes and act promptly when there is a problem.
Every year thousands of children are killed or injured falling out of windows. Many of those windows have screens, which do not always provide an adequate barrier. Landlords and property management companies have been held liable in some of those cases.
Suggestions: While the outcomes vary by state and the facts of each case, there are lessons to be learned from each situation. An Oregon court held in 2009 that the landlord was liable when a 2-year-old fell out of an unusually low second story screened window. The family argued the landlord should have installed a child-safe screen or baby gate.
Landlords may have an obligation to prevent tenants and their guests from being harmed by secondhand smoke in common areas and in their units, on the grounds that it is a breach of the implied warranty of habitability and a nuisance or trespass. Disabled tenants with breathing disorders could use the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act to sue landlords for not making reasonable accommodations for them.
Suggestions: The simplest action would be to make your entire property smoke-free, and to state that in your lease agreement. If you don't want to completely prohibit smoking, consider the following:
Depending on the state, landlords may be automatically liable for exterminating bedbugs and for any damages. A landlord failing to deal promptly with a bed bug infestation could be sued for breach of the warranty of habitability.
Suggestions: If you live in an area where bed bugs are a known possibility, be pro-active and document your actions:
These liability issues might be news to you. If any concern you, now would be the time to take some preventive action and do some follow up work or consult your attorney.
This information should not be considered legal advice. Keep in mind that state and local jurisdictions have different laws and rules. Always check the rules and regulations in your area and consult an attorney before changing your lease agreements or taking any action.