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Can You Sue Your Landlord for an Injury?

Premises liability is the area of the law that holds landlords accountable when hidden hazards on their property cause injury to unsuspecting visitors. But what happens when you’re not a visitor but a tenant? Can you still sue the landlord? The answer is yes, but there are usually a few conditions your case must meet.

  • The hazard must be hidden. In most cases, you must be unaware that a dangerous condition exists, come upon it unwittingly, and hurt yourself.
  • The hazard must be one the landlord knew about or should have known about. The law requires a landlord to be reasonable about making sure the premises are safe. If the hazard is one that a landlord would have discovered through a reasonably conscientious inspection of the grounds, he has a duty to warn you about it or remove it.

If your injury scenario satisfies those first two points, there are still hurdles. The first is the timeline for the appearance of the hazard:

  • Was the hazard there when you rented the space? If so, you have a pretty good argument that the landlord breached his duty to warn you or to remediate the condition.
  • Did the hazard occur after you rented due to normal wear and tear? If so, your lease agreement may make you responsible for discovering and remediating the problem — if you control the space. In many cases, you have a duty to notify the landlord, but you also have a duty to keep yourself safe from a hazard you know to exist.

There are another couple of wrinkles having to do with notice:

  • Did the landlord warn you about the hazard, but you just forgot? It’s not unusual for a landlord to say something like, “That railing’s a little loose, so be careful. I’ll get someone in here to fix it next week.” At that point, you are on notice of the hazard. If you have an accident before the repair person arrives to fix it, a court could conclude you were negligent. However, if the repair doesn’t happen, a court might decide the landlord breached his duty to repair, and your forgetfulness was understandable.
  • Did you tell the landlord, but he failed to repair it? Under your lease agreement, the landlord might retain responsibility for certain repairs, and you are only responsible for giving him notice. At that point, the landlord must respond within a reasonable time or be liable for injuries.

Now, what if the hazard is not hidden? The law usually protects a landlord from liability for hazards that are open and obvious. So, if you tiptoe past the “wet floor” sign, and slip before reaching your apartment door, a court could decide you assumed the risk of walking on the wet floor. However, if there is no reasonable alternative to encountering the hazard, as when the only staircase is blocked with rubbish, the court usually sides with the injured party.

Another exception to the “open and obvious” rule is distraction. Suppose there is an abrupt change of level in the vestibule of an apartment building, and the landlord has painted the edge yellow to warn of the step downward. A court may find that is sufficient to make the hazard obvious to a visitor, but if the area is very busy or noisy, those distractions can be enough to counteract the warning, so the landlord would be liable for a trip and fall.

Premises liability cases are very fact specific and can be difficult to prove. To learn about your rights, call Crane Flores, LLP today at (805) 628-4967 or contact our offices online to schedule a free consultation.