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Tenant Safety and Landlord Liability

for-rent-sign against brick building

Property owners and their delegates, including property managers and landlords, have a duty to prevent injury on their property. A tenant's rights include the right to a safe home. If a landlord fails to maintain a safe rental property, they risk consequences, including fines and personal injury lawsuits.

Safety is an essential factor for renters. No one wants to live in a home covered in lead-based paint or insulation containing asbestos. Safety also includes an environment free of criminal activity.

This article explores a landlord's legal responsibility to keep their tenants safe during the term of their tenancy.

Warranty of Habitability

Every lease or rental agreement includes an implied warranty of habitability. The law reads this warranty into every rental or lease agreement. Under the warranty of habitability, the rental premises are suitable for human occupancy. At a minimum, this means the landlord has followed local building or housing codes and ordinances.

Building codes often address the structural integrity of the rental unit and the tenant's health and safety. For example, a rodent infestation negatively impacts the renter's health, so landlords must fix this issue. Landlords are also responsible for maintaining common areas, such as staircases, laundry rooms, and the building's entryway.

Criminal Activity

A landlord's responsibility includes ensuring the property is free from criminal activity. While it is not the landlord's responsibility to prevent all crimes, they can limit their tenants' exposure to criminal activity. Under many local laws, rental properties should have a deadbolt lock on the door handle. This helps the renter to secure their living space.

Landlords may also take other security measures, such as installing a security system and exterior lights. They can trim tall plants to discourage criminal activity and increase visibility.

Proactive Measures for Landlords

Landlords must keep their buildings free of illegal activity, such as drug dealing. Most leases have a provision banning illegal activity within the rental units. If the landlord discovers unlawful activity, they can start eviction proceedings based on a lease violation. Landlords can mitigate their risk by getting a background check, including criminal history, on all prospective tenants.

A landlord's liability will rise if they fail to respond to a tenant's report of suspicious activity. If a tenant sustains an injury because of this failure, the landlord may face lawsuits or constructive eviction.

Dangerous Conditions

The rental property may often threaten the tenant's safety and well-being. Older buildings must conform to building codes and current safety codes. Ensuring the building is up to code is part of the landlord's responsibilities. These responsibilities include ensuring the rental property does not contain lead or dangerous materials.

Often, cities and states require landlords to do the following:

  • Disclose environmental toxins to renters before they sign the rental agreement
  • Install fire exits or smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in each unit

In addition, landlords must make reasonable repairs to improve building safety. However, they are not required to complete significant renovations before leasing a property.

Tenant's Options

Although the landlord must ensure the rental property or apartment building is safe, tenants can take measures to protect themselves. Their options include:

  • Understanding their tenant rights
  • Learning about the local crime statistics or reaching out to local law enforcement, as crime statistics can offer a snapshot of a neighborhood's safety
  • Viewing the rental in person
  • Asking questions about the building
  • Checking the condition of the smoke detectors, electrical sockets, and ventilation systems
  • Completing a security deposit checklist and identifying any structural or safety concerns
  • Getting renter's insurance, which offers peace of mind for any damage to or theft of the tenant's property

Tenant Remedies

A tenant who observes an unsafe condition or criminal activity on the rental property should give their landlord written notice. If tenants observe criminal acts on the rental property, they should contact local law enforcement.

If the landlord fails to address the issue, the tenant has several options for relief, depending on the issue. First, the tenant should give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem. Reasonable time will vary based on the situation. For example, a broken lock requires more urgency than changing a light bulb.

In some cases, tenants can repair the issue on their own and deduct the repair costs from the next month's rent. Tenants should check local and state laws to confirm the details of this plan. In some states and local communities, the tenant can pay rent into an escrow account until the landlord repairs the problem. Otherwise, the tenant's actions may trigger an eviction process for nonpayment of rent.

Get Help

Landlord-tenant law is complex and may vary from state to state. If your landlord fails in their duties, a local, experienced landlord-tenant attorney can give you legal advice and help you determine your legal options.

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