ceiling collapse

Safe Housing: The Intersection of Negligence and Sanctuary

by Shaketta A. Denson | April 6th, 2018

Within their homes, more than 11,000 people die each year from preventable, unintentional injuries. Everyone deserves a safe place to lay their heads at night and the security of knowing that their home is indeed their castle. If you are a tenant in privately or commercially owned residential housing and you get injured through no fault of your own, you have rights. These types of incidents and injuries fall under what is called premises liability.

If I am a renter and I get hurt at home, who is responsible?

Unless required by the lease or by state or local law, the landlord/owner is not responsible for maintaining the property, other than to ensure that dangerous conditions do not exist on the property. Local laws mostly require that the property is habitable and that a specific unit meets certain minimal standards before it can be rented. Generally, if something in the rental unit needs to be repaired, the landlord is required to repair it. However, the tenant must notify the landlord about the problem in writing. If the tenant’s property or body is damaged by the landlord’s failure to make repairs required by the lease or law, the tenant may file a civil action for damages against the landlord. However, the landlord may not be liable for damages that are beyond his or her control.

Landlords and property owners are responsible for making a home safe and habitable for their tenants. This includes regular inspections, proper and plentiful maintenance staff and quick, proper and timely repairs. Many injuries such as slips, falls and injuries resulting from ceiling collapses can be the result of improper maintenance. Other more remote injuries, such as mold exposure due to the improper cleaning of moisture and lead paint poisoning, are also things that could be the result of potential negligence on the part of the landlord/owner.

The responsibility of the landlord is called a standard of care. Standard of care is a legal term that means the attentiveness, prudence and caution that a reasonable person must exercise under the circumstances. If the landlord/owner does not meet the standard of care, the landlord can be liable.

If You Are Injured in a Rental Property

Many people are aware that if there are serious defects in your rented home, you have Rent Escrow as an outlet. For a landlord/owner to be liable to someone for injuries sustained on their property, a few things have to happen. You must show that:

  1. The landlord/owner had a duty (responsibility) to fix the dangerous condition that existed;
  2. The landlord/owner breached this duty by not fixing the condition in a reasonable amount of time;
  3. The problem would not have been unreasonably expensive or difficult to fix;
  4. The landlord/owner had knowledge of the condition;
  5. The cause of the injury was the choice to not repair the dangerous condition;
  6. The injury that happened was one that is known to be caused by such dangerous conditions (i.e., “foreseeable”); and finally,
  7. The landlord’s negligence (i.e., their choice to not fix this condition) directly caused the injury.

To explain this a little better, here’s an example:

Let’s say that there is a terrible rainstorm and a tenant’s apartment floods from the ceiling in several places. The tenant promptly notifies her landlord by phone and emails photos of the leaking. The storm eventually stops, and so does the leaking. The landlord does not come to the apartment to inspect or check the ceiling for water damage. One month later while the tenant is sleeping, their ceiling caves in on top of them. They sustain a concussion.

In this scenario, the tenant can prove that the landlord had a duty to inspect the celling after the leaking and repair any water damage. Fixing the ceiling with new drywall would not have been unreasonable or unreasonably expensive. If the landlord had repaired the wet drywall it would not have fallen, and the tenant would not have been injured. Getting a concussion is serious and foreseeable as a result of someone being hit on the head with drywall, and the choice of the landlord not to fix the drywall directly caused the concussion.

If you are successful with all of these elements, you can potentially recover monetary damages to cover your:

  • Medical bills
  • Lost wages
  • Physical injuries
  • Emotional distress
  • Pain and suffering
  • Personal property damage

What if a child is injured on a rental property?

Additional care is shown to children, who are seen by the law as less able to appreciate the dangers and risks. Landlords/owners may not, however, be liable for the intentional, reckless or dangerous behavior on the part of the tenant that results in an injury.

What if I’m hurt as the result of a crime that happened on a rental property?

It is also important to keep in mind that negligence on the part of a landlord can also extend to potential criminal dangers to tenants. Landlords/owners are also under an obligation to ensure that the building is free from criminal activity as well. This means that apartments are equipped with deadbolts or other secure locks so that tenants can adequately secure their living spaces. They must keep buildings free from illegal activity.

What if I have friends or family over to my house?

Landlords can also be liable to visitors to the property who are allowed or permitted to be on the property. The landlord is responsible for maintaining shared common areas (stairways, hallways, parking lots, etc.), and if someone is injured in/on those common areas, the landlord could be held liable. There are some situations where a landlord/owner might not be held liable. Those are situations where the danger is “open and obvious.” This means something an average person would and could have identified and avoided.

Negligence Per Se

There are certain situations where there is a law that is specifically designed to protect tenants. For example, if smoke alarms are missing from an apartment and someone is injured as a result of a fire or carbon dioxide, this is called negligence per se. In these situations, the landlord will be held liable without the need for additional proof. The tenant simply has to show the following:

  1. The landlord/owner violated the law;
  2. The law was specifically designed to protect from the type of injury that resulted; and
  3. The tenant was injured as a result.

What if you’re the homeowner and someone gets hurt on your property?

Now, what happens if you are a private homeowner and someone is injured on your property? Do you have the same obligations to the mailman as you do to your visiting family? Do you have any obligations at all? Yes…and no.

If someone is injured on your property, you could be held responsible, and in some situations, there is no negligence needed. A slip, fall or trip on your property that resulted in an injury would be a situation where the injured person would have to prove that there was something you did not do that you should have done or that you did do that you shouldn’t have done to keep your property free from hazards. For more information on these kinds of cases, specifically when it comes to snow and ice, check out Tom Teodori and Ben Boscolo’s recent blog post on the topic.

However, there are some things that you are automatically responsible for. This concept is called “strict liability.” For example, in Maryland, if someone is bitten by a dog on your property, they may be able to make a claim without needing to prove that you did something wrong.

When someone is injured on your property, they are covered by your homeowners’ insurance policy. The liability coverage under your homeowners’ policy will pay all of the harms and losses that result from the injury. If there is a lawsuit filed against you, they will also provide you with a defense.

Despite all of this, it should be understood that every case and situation is different and no two are alike. Different states apply things differently, and the type of property that you are on, own or have contracted about may change the responsibility. If you’ve been hurt on someone else’s property, you should do your research and seek out someone you trust to help you protect your legal rights.