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Landlord Liability for Commercial Rentals, Part 1

For Rent

The landlord’s liability for hazardous conditions in commercial rentals mirrors–but doesn’t match exactly–the duty and liability for conditions in residential rental spaces. 

The following factors impact the duty (and liability) of landlords for commercial rental spaces. Exceptions do exist, however, so always consult an attorney after suffering an injury or damages on property belonging to someone else.

1. Landlords generally must have knowledge of a dangerous condition on commercial rental property in order to have liability for any injuries resulting from the condition.

Public policy in California states that landlords do not “insure” the safety of people who enter onto property they own. Without proof that the landlord had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused the injury, the landlord generally will not have liability for damages.

However, where the owner or tenant in possession of commercial property knows–or reasonably should have known–about a hazardous condition have a duty to either: (a) fix (or mitigate) the relevant condition, or (b) warn people entering the property about the existence of the condition and the possibility of harm or injury. Note: If only the tenant knows about the condition (and the landlord does not know), the duty generally applies to the tenant alone.

2. Landlords and tenants in possession of commercial property have a reasonable duty to inspect the property and any improvements.

Landlords and their tenants each have a separate obligation to perform periodic inspections of the property and any buildings or other improvements on it. The frequency and scope of these inspections varies depending on the use of the property and the landlord’s rights of access, but inspections must be reasonable in frequency and extent.

Whether or not inspections were conducted properly, or thoroughly enough to prevent liability, is a question of fact. This means that in many cases, the jury (or the judge, in the case of a non-jury trial) will examine the facts of the case and decide the question based upon the particular facts and circumstances at issue.

3. Previous accidents may put an owner on notice of hazards, but the nature of the business does not (at least, not always).

In some states, inherently hazardous business operations or property uses automatically put a property owner (or tenant in possession) on notice that the property’s condition is hazardous enough to require remediation and/or warnings to people who enter the property. This is called the “mode of operation” rule, and it serves to eliminate the need for injured plaintiffs to prove that the property owner knew about the dangerous condition–the hazardous “mode of operation” automatically means the landlord should have known about the danger. However, California does not follow this rule, and plaintiffs in California are not entitled to this shortcut when establishing duty and liability, absent some other law or rule which creates the same effect.

Other, similar accidents caused by a certain condition may (but do not necessarily) put a property owner or tenant on notice that the condition exists and is hazardous enough to require a remedy. Again, this is a “facts and circumstances” situation, so property owners and tenants should exercise reasonable caution and prudence when evaluating property conditions and responding to hazards or accidents.

This list does not include all of the guidelines and situations courts may examine. We’ll look at some additional factors later this week.

Regardless of what you read here, or anywhere else, you should consult an attorney promptly if you suffer an injury or other damages on someone else’s property. Failure to obtain a consultation, and discover your rights, without delay could hurt your ability to obtain an appropriate recovery for your injuries.

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DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for informational purposes only, does not constitute legal advice to any person or entity, and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any person or entity. Landlord-tenant law, including premises liability, is a complex legal topic, and no single article can provide complete or comprehensive coverage or information about this or any other legal topic or issue. Your personal liability may differ, based on your individual facts and circumstances. If you believe you have a legal claim or issue, or wish to know more about your individual rights, consult an experienced attorney without delay.

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