The Landlord’s Duty to Inspect & Repair
WHAT IS THE LANDLORD’S DUTY TO MAINTAIN PROPERTY?
Landlords have a duty to keep their properties “reasonably safe” for tenants and third parties who may enter onto the premises. Visitors are considered “invitees” of the landlord/property owner, even when they enter the property to visit a tenant or for other purposes unrelated to the landlord’s business.
Specifically, Landlords have a duty to inspect and repair property whenever the landlord has “legal possession” of the property or has actual knowledge of a dangerous condition. If a landlord’s inspection reveals a hazard, the landlord must also take reasonable steps to remedy or remove the hazardous condition. Alternatively, if a tenant makes the landlord aware of a dangerous condition which the landlord has a duty to repair, the landlord has an obligation to remove or repair the property to cure the dangerous condition.
The duty to inspect and remedy hazards also includes a specific duty to inspect property and premises before transferring possession to a tenant.
HOW DOES THE LANDLORD’S DUTY CHANGE WHEN A TENANT HAS POSSESSION OF THE PROPERTY?
During the time when a tenant has possession of property, the landlord’s duty to inspect and remedy hazards is dependent upon the landlord having actual “knowledge and control.”
Therefore, when a tenant has possession of the premises, the landlord is only liable for injuries to third parties when:
1. The landlord had actual knowledge of the hazard or dangerous condition, and
2. The landlord had the right and ability to remedy the relevant hazard or condition.
Where the tenant can prevent the landlord from entering onto or changing the condition of the premises, the landlord lacks the ability to remedy a danger, and the law generally does not hold landlords liable for dangerous conditions under those circumstances.
Landlords should note that the law may treat commercial properties differently from residential properties in this regard. A landlord is often considered to have less control over residential properties (where tenants have a greater expectation of privacy and control), and more control and knowledge over commercial premises. Cases have held landlords accountable for dangerous conditions and injuries occurring on commercial properties even where the lease required the tenant to maintain the premises in safe condition.
Where property is open to the public on a commercial basis, landlords should be aware that the duty of care may be higher, and should seek and obtain a clear analysis of their individual rights and obligations with regard to inspections and the condition of the property.
Landlords should exercise vigilance with respect to property they own, whether or not a tenant is in possession. Landlords should consult with a lawyer or other specialist to ensure they understand the legal rights and obligations relating to properties they own and control, and should always comply with legal obligations to maintain and repair their properties. Ignorance of the law is not a defense. Consult an attorney or property specialist to learn about your duties and obligations, and make sure you comply with your legal duties to keep your property safe and well maintained.
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. 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.