More than one-third of American households lived in rental housing as of 2017. In fact, single family rentals are developing more rapidly than any other sector of the housing market, outpacing both apartment-style living and home purchases. That means there are plenty of opportunities for rental property investment in the United States.
As a landlord, you may think you’re already doing everything in your power to keep your tenants satisfied and your property well-maintained. Unfortunately, you might find out the hard way if you’ve fallen short. If your tenants can prove you were negligent in keeping them safe, you could be in trouble. Here’s what you need to know.
Understanding premises liability
Premises liability refers to a type of personal injury case where someone is harmed due to negligence on the part of the property’s owner or operator. If a property is unsafe or defective in some way and a person is hurt as a result, the injured party may be able to file this type of claim with help from a personal injury attorney.
Some states require the property’s owner or operator to provide proper duty of care to anyone and everyone who might come onto that property. Other states require that the owner or operator maintains safety on the property for people known as “invitees”, who have the owner’s implied or express permission to come onto the property. Customers and tenants would be good examples of invitees.
In order for a landlord to be held liable for a tenant’s injuries, the tenant must prove that the landlord had a responsibility to maintain the portion of the property in question; that the landlord did not take reasonable action to prevent the incident; that fixing the issue or providing warnings would not have been unreasonably difficult or prohibitively expensive; that the injury was foreseeable; that the negligence directly caused the injury; and that the tenant was truly hurt as a result.
Examples of premises liability incidents
There are actually all kinds of premises liability injuries. Some examples that could apply to landlord-tenant situations might include slip and fall accidents, inadequate building security, inadequate maintenance, defective conditions, snow and ice accidents, elevator accidents, flooding or water leaks, toxic fumes or chemical accidents, electrical incidents or fires, or dog bites.
Because there’s such a wide range of potential problems that could occur, it’s up to landlords to be extremely diligent about the conditions on their properties and be proactive in preventing accidents. Otherwise, you could leave yourself vulnerable to legal action.
How landlords can protect themselves
Before your tenants even moved in, you probably took a number of steps to protect yourself from undesirable situations. You likely had your tenants fill out a simple rental application and subjected them to background checks and credit checks to ensure you’re renting to desirable candidates. You probably did your part to ensure inspections were performed and that everything in the property was up to code prior to tenant move-in day. You may have even included details on your responsibility to keep the property maintained in the lease agreement.
If you want to protect yourself from litigation, it’s essential that you make good on those promises. You should conduct routine checks around the property and stress the importance of reporting problems to your tenants. Encourage your renters to report security or safety issues (e.g., plumbing, electricity, heating, or anything that’s in disrepair) to you immediately. If they report an issue to you, keep them updated on the progress so that they don’t have to chase you down. Be sure to keep a written log of repair requests and when they were rectified.
You should also make it a point to take care of urgent safety issues within 24 hours. Provide your tenants with a safety and maintenance checklist at least once or twice a year to ensure you’re all on the same page about potential issues. Finally, invest in the right type of insurance policies that can protect you from loss and liability.
Accidents do happen, but it’s imperative that you prevent any accidents on your property that could occur due to negligence. If you keep the lines of communication open between you and your tenants and take care of reported problems quickly, you should be able to avoid incidents like these and improve tenant satisfaction in the long run.