Liability for Tenant Injuries and Insurance for Landlords
Landlord-tenant laws are different in every state. They also differ in different municipalities. Additionally, you may have duties coming from the lease and rental agreements. We address some common tenant concerns related to liability for tenant injuries below. For the laws specific to your state, see our state-by-state listing.
- Are landlord insurance policies available?
- Is a landlord liable for injuries to visitors?
- What kind of damages can a tenant receive?
- Are landlords liable for injuries that occur inside a rental unit?
- What is the best way for a landlord to minimize lawsuits?
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 that pay landlords for damage or loss due to fire, flooding, earthquakes, and burglary, there are landlord insurance policies that can be purchased to cover damages from tenant injuries.
While they are not cheap, comprehensive general liability policies are often necessary. This is particularly true for owners of multiple unit properties. These insurance policies cover financial damages resulting from defective property conditions. They also provide attorneys to defend you in lawsuits brought by renters.
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. You should make sure to explore policies that cover common claims brought by tenants, including claims involving:
- Invasion of privacy
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:
- Properly maintain common areas
- Warn of hidden dangers which they are (or should be) aware of
- Make safe furnished dwellings on short term leases
A landlord is only liable for the injuries of renters and visitors in circumstances where the landlord's negligence has caused the injuries in the above cases. Additionally, this negligence must be the direct cause of the injury.
For example, let's say there is a broken step on the front stairwell of your apartment, so you use a properly functioning back stairwell that is well lit. You fall and injure yourself. The landlord's negligence may not be deemed to be the direct cause of your injuries and the landlord might not be liable for damages. It's a much clearer case if you injure yourself while trying to use the broken front stairwell.
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. For example, 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 enough 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:
- The landlord had the duty to fix, but did not
- Fixing the problem wouldn't have been unreasonably expensive — broken steps occur frequently and don't cost much
- If the landlord had fixed the condition, the tenant wouldn't have been injured
- Falling down and injuring yourself is serious and foreseeable
- The failure to fix or warn directly caused the injuries
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.
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 leases. What happens inside a renter's home 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.
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, landlords should also 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.
Get Legal Help to Better Understand Landlord Liability for Tenant Injuries
Whether you're an injured tenant or a landlord defending against a case where your tenant was injured on a rental property, it's a good idea to seek the advice of a lawyer before entering into a lawsuit. Contact a local landlord-tenant lawyer who can explain your state's landlord-tenant laws and represent you in court, if necessary.