How to Prove Landlord Negligence
This post was updated on December 20, 2022.
Since over 36% of Americans rent their homes, dealing with landlords is a common occurrence. For the most part, landlords keep the property in good condition to attract prime tenants. However, some landlords neglect their rental property and put their renters at risk for potential harm.
So, what do you do if you are hurt at the rental property where you live? You may have a claim for compensation if you suffer a physical injury or financial loss due to your landlord's negligence. And if you sue your landlord, you must prove they had a duty of care and acted negligently.
What Is a Landlord's Duty of Care?
When a landlord leases a rental property, they have a duty to tenants and visitors to the rental unit. This is premises liability, meaning a property owner is liable for accidents and injuries occurring on their property.
Landlords have a legal obligation to maintain habitable premises (a livable home). They must repair and maintain the property to keep you safe. For example, they must keep stairways in apartment complexes clear and safe. If there is a broken stair, they must fix it, or they will be liable for a tenant's injury.
Landlords have a duty to:
- Properly maintain common areas
- Be aware of hidden dangers on the property and warn tenants and visitors of them
- Not interfere with the tenant's quiet enjoyment of the property
- Comply with local ordinances, such as those requiring running water or working heat in the winter
- Make a furnished dwelling safe on short-term leases (for example, a furnished Airbnb rental)
What Is Negligence?
Negligence occurs when one person acts carelessly or without regard for the consequences of their actions or fails to act when they should have done something, and their actions or failure to act causes another person's injury or financial loss. The most common negligence cases involve car accidents. However, when a person is injured on another's property, the property owner can be found negligent under the legal theory of premises liability.
Sometimes the injury or loss is such a clear result of an action or failure to act that the injury or loss is evidence enough of negligence. However, under the legal theory of negligence, you must prove certain elements of your claim.
What Are the Elements of a Negligence Claim?
As the injured party, you must prove the following for a successful lawsuit or settlement:
- Your landlord owed a duty of care to you and they breached that duty
- That breach of duty caused the injury or financial damage
In cases against landlords, a court determines whether the landlord owed a duty to the injured person.
Is Notice Required for Landlord Liability?
A landlord generally has a duty to not only their tenants, but also tenants' guests and potentially the public if common areas are accessible to them. Usually, the duty is to keep the common areas in a habitable and safe condition, such as ensuring railings are secure, doors work properly, and there are generally no dangerous conditions such as loose live wires or broken stairs.
But to be liable, a landlord must know about these conditions, or the conditions must have existed for long enough that a "reasonable" landlord should have notice and opportunity to fix the problem.
However, depending on how your injury occurred, a landlord's liability may end once someone enters your unit. But suppose the damage results from a defective condition that only the landlord can correct. In that case, even if the injury occurs inside your unit, a landlord could still be liable if you gave them notice of the problem that caused the injury and they did not provide a timely repair.
Always Notify Your Landlord of Hazards
If there is a repair needed or an unsafe condition, first, check the terms of your rental agreement. You may be responsible for minor repairs in your unit. For example, you may be responsible for changing lightbulbs in your apartment. It is not the landlord's responsibility if you forget to replace a lightbulb and trip and fall because the room is dark.
However, if the repair or unsafe condition is not your responsibility, such as an electrical problem, notify your landlord or property management company as soon as possible and give them an opportunity to fix it.
Since notice is an element of a negligence claim, you should keep a record of communication between you and your landlord. Save letters, texts, or emails where you notify your landlord of dangerous conditions and note your landlord's failure to fix them.
Know Your Legal Rights as a Tenant
If the landlord does not respond within a reasonable amount of time, check your state and local laws. Some states and cities allow tenants to withhold rent if the premises is unsafe or unsuitable for habitability.
States have laws protecting tenants' rights. If you are having issues with your landlord or they are ignoring your requests to fix dangerous conditions, seek legal advice. If you suffer a serious injury, consult a personal injury attorney to help with your claim of negligence. In a successful personal injury case, you can recover money for medical bills, lost wages or lost earning capacity, and pain and suffering.
- Find Personal Injury Lawyers in Your Area (FindLaw's Lawyer Directory)
- How Landlords Can Avoid Tenant Injury Lawsuits (FindLaw's Injured)
- Tenant Rights (FindLaw Learn About the Law)
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.