Liability for Tenant Injuries and Insurance for Landlords
Landlord tenant laws are different in every state, as well as in different municipalities. Additionally, lease and rental agreements may have duties and responsibilities beyond state and local regulations. For the laws specific to your state, see our state-by-state listing.
In the event a tenant sues for injuries suffered on the property, are there insurance policies which cover landlords?
Yes. Just as there are insurance policies which compensate landlords for damage or loss due to fire, flooding, earthquakes, and burglary, among other things, there is insurance which that can purchased to cover damages from tenant injuries.
While they are not cheap, comprehensive general liability policies are often necessary, particularly for owners are multiple unit properties. These insurance policies cover financial damages resulting from defective property conditions and provide attorneys to defend you in any lawsuit brought by a tenant.
Like any insurance policy, you will want a policy large enough to at least cover the value of your property, as well as liability insurance for vehicles used by the business. When searching for insurance, an agent will inform you of different coverage packages, but you should make sure to explore in detail with your agent policies that cover injury, invasion of privacy, slander, evictions and other common claims brought by tenants.
If a tenant or visitor is injured on property owned by a landlord, is the landlord liable for the injuries?
Landlords have a duty to 1) properly maintain common areas; 2) warn of hidden dangers which they are (or should be) aware of; and 3) make safe furnished dwellings on short term leases. A landlord is only liable for the injuries of tenants and visitors in cases where the landlord's negligence has caused the injuries in the above circumstances. Additionally, this negligence must be the direct cause of the injury.
For example, a landlord is negligent in failing to repair a broken step on the front stairwell, so you use a properly functioning back stairwell to get to your apartment, but in doing so you fall and injure yourself. The landlord's negligence will not be deemed to be the direct cause of your injuries and the landlord will not be liable for damages.
For landlord liability to attach, the following must be proven:
- the landlord had a duty to fix the dangerous condition and breached his duty by not fixing it in a reasonable amount of time--a broken step would not be required to be fixed in just an hour.
- fixing the problem wouldn't have been unreasonably expensive or difficult (and the landlord had adequate warning of the problem)
- the cause of the injury was the failure to repair the dangerous condition
- the damage that resulted (the injury) was serious and probable (i.e., foreseeable)
- the landlord's negligence directly caused the injury
In order to hold the landlord liable, the tenant will have to prove each of the above elements. Take the example of the broken stairwell, above. Assume the tenant took the front stairwell, stepped on the broken step, injured himself, and that the step had been broken for several months. The tenant could prove: 1) the landlord had the duty to fix, but did not; 2) fixing the problem wouldn't have been unreasonably expensive -- broken steps occur frequently and don't cost much; 3) if the landlord had fixed the condition, the tenant wouldn't have been injured; 4) falling down and injuring yourself is serious and foreseeable; and 5) the failure to fix or warn directly caused the injuries.
What kind of damages can a tenant receive from a landlord?
If an injury satisfies the above criteria, tenants can sue for:
- Medical Bills
- Lost Earnings
- Pain and Suffering
- Disability or Disfigurement
- Emotional Distress
- Personal property damage--e.g., things that have been damaged as a result of the landlord's negligence.
Are landlords liable for injuries to tenants and visitors that occur inside of a rental unit?
Generally, no. Landlords are only responsible for the maintenance of common areas; warning of hidden dangers that they know about and making safe furnished dwellings on short term lease. What happens inside a tenant's dwelling is their responsibility.
The only exception would be where a landlord's faulty repair or workmanship caused the injury. Then the landlord may be liable for the defect.
What is the best way for a landlord to minimize lawsuits from tenant injuries?
The best way to avoid potential losses from injuries related to maintenance is, obviously, to keep your property in great shape. If you haven't done so already, prepare a written checklist and go through the common areas of the property as well as tenant units before tenants move in.
Go through the checklist on a regular basis and document the date and time each time you do so. No matter where problems may arise, either in common areas or tenant units, you should encourage tenants and employees to report any security or safety issues immediately. Keeping your own written record of all reports and when and how the problems were resolved.
In addition to regular maintenance and check-ups on the property, landlords should clearly assign responsibilities for repair and maintenance in the lease or rental agreement. While major duties such as the safety of common areas cannot be passed off, a clear description of procedures to follow in the event that repairs are necessary can be helpful in avoiding lawsuits.