When a visitor to a building falls and gets hurt, often the property owner is held responsible for medical treatment and possibly more. For landlords, this extends to tenants as well as visitors. Legal responsibility for an injury stems from a concept called negligence. To be negligent under the law, a person must:
- Owe a duty to be careful to someone else,
- Fail to meet that obligation, and
- Cause an injury or damage to someone else because of that failure.
Landlords owe a duty of care to anyone visiting the property. If there’s a condition that a reasonable person would recognize as unsafe, the landlord has a duty to correct it, warn others of its presence or create a barrier to keep them away from it.
For example, when an elevator or escalator is having repairs done, anyone attempting to use these could be in danger. The landlord has an obligation to post signs warning others to keep out, along with barricades to discourage them from ignoring the signs. If these steps are not taken and someone suffers a serious injury, a court may well find that the landlord was negligent.
Prevention and Reporting
There are several things landlords can do to prevent accidents. Regular inspections of the premises should be done with a checklist in hand. Floors, stairs, ceilings, doors, mechanical equipment and any other potential hazards should be checked.
Tenants should be told how to inform the landlord of problems by phone, email or text message.
When hazards are identified, either through an inspection or from a tenant’s report, they should be noted in a written log or database. The record should include notes about the status of the correction, such as when repair workers are called and the date repairs are completed.
Some conditions are more serious than others. A heavy light fixture that looks ready to fall out of the ceiling is likely more dangerous than a section of carpeting that is sticking up. Both need to be addressed, but the more serious danger should take priority.
Lastly, keep tenants and the public informed. Send memos to tenants when scheduled maintenance is about to occur. Post signs on doors and other public areas about ongoing work or existing dangers. To the extent possible, let them know how long the work is expected to take.
Insurance to Protect Yourself and Others
It’s important for the landlord to carry property and liability insurance. Property insurance covers damage to and loss of use of the building from fires, explosions, windstorms, vandalism and other causes. Liability insurance covers the landlord’s legal liability for injuries or property damage to others.
It’s important to realize that insurance doesn’t cover every cause of accidents. For example, most property insurance doesn’t cover damage caused by flooding so a professional insurance agent can explain what different policies cover.
Accidents are painful, disturbing and costly. Landlords should do whatever they can to prevent them from happening, and buy insurance in case they do happen.