As the owners of property, landlords are often legally responsible for the condition, upkeep, and use of their property, including legal liability for injuries that may be suffered by tenants or visitors.
Known as premises liability, this legal theory may be used to hold a property owner liable for injuries that occur on his or her property. But a landlord's potential liability can depend on both the cause of the injury as well as the legal status of the person who was injured.
Although specific laws may vary depending on your state, when are landlords liable for injuries? Here's a general overview:
Injuries to Tenants
A landlord may be held legally responsible for an injury to a tenant when the injury was caused by negligence on the part of the landlord in maintaining the safety of the property.
Negligence requires that the landlord owe a legal duty to the tenant to do or not do something, that the landlord breach that duty, causing the tenant injury. This may include failing to make reasonable repairs to the property or otherwise remedy known risks to tenant safety. Landlords may also be held liable for negligence per se if they fail to meet the requirements of state or local laws in maintaining their property, such as installing smoke alarms where they are required by law.
Landlords generally have a legal duty to provide tenants with reasonable protection from criminals such as secure locks on doors, adequate lighting, and other security measures. Landlords may be responsible for injuries caused by criminal activity if they knowingly allowed criminal activity such as drug dealing to take place on their property and failed to take reasonable action to stop it.
Injuries to Visitors
Under some circumstances, landlords may also be liable for injuries caused by those just visiting their property. Although a tenant may be legally liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions in areas which are under the tenant's control (that was not in existence at the time the tenant assumed control of the property), the landlord is still responsible for the reasonable maintenance of common areas or other portions of the property not under the tenant's control.
A landlord may even be liable for injuries to trespassers when those injuries are caused by artificial conditions on property that a landlord failed to properly warn about. This is especially true for children who may be drawn in by an attractive nuisance. An attractive nuisance is generally considered a man-made object that may be enticing to children and threaten them with harm. Some examples of attractive nuisances include swimming pools, wells, dangerous animals, and machinery.
To learn more about personal injury lawsuits and who may be held liable, head over to FindLaw's section on Accident and Injury Law.