Landlord Liability for Dangerous Conditions on Site

Landlords of residential properties – like most all property owners – have a responsibility to ensure their site is in reasonably safe condition for both tenants and visitors.urban decay

F.S. 83.51 requires that landlords to comply with all applicable building, housing and health codes and make sure all exterior walls, foundations, steps, porches, floors, doors and windows. Plumbing has to be in usable, workable condition, screens have to be in reasonable condition and they must also provide locks and keys and make sure common areas are kept in a safe, clean condition.

When they fail in their duty, they may be held liable for resulting injuries. The only real exception would be if a tenant is harmed by conditions created or caused by tenant’s own negligence or wrongful act or by the negligent/ wrongful act of the tenant’s family or other person on site with tenant’s consent. 

These kinds of claims are characterized as “premises liability.” The strength of such claims will depend on numerous factors, including how long the dangerous condition existed and whether the property owner had actual or constructive knowledge of it.

A couple of recent headlines highlight issues that can arise when landlords fail to maintain their properties.

In Jacksonville recently, newly-minted HUD director Ben Carson toured a troubled apartment complex that receives millions in federal funding to maintain six residential rental properties in that region. The 400-unit facility he toured his home to more than 200 children, and has historically been marred by rusting, dangerous staircases, broken windows, broken appliances and non-working smoke detectors.

Last year when Sen. Marco Rubio toured the site, he characterized it as “horrifying” and lambasted the property owners for their “inexcusable” failure to properly maintain the site. He even went so far as to ask for a criminal investigation, given that the site received so much federal money and allegedly failed to make basic repairs.

Although the facility had narrowly passed its inspections for years, it failed the most recent, which means it could be cut off from federal dollars. Following the pressure from numerous lawmakers, the owners agreed to sell off several properties, including this one. However, the long-time owner still retains ownership at this juncture.

If the site fails one more federal inspection, the facility could be taken over by federal officials.

Although violence has been a concern at the site, residents also complain about mold and mildew, pests and gas leaks.

Landlords could be held potentially liable for each one of these situations if they resulted in injury. For example, if there are repeated reports of robberies, burglaries or gunshots fired and the property owners fail to hire security or make sure the parking lots are well-lit or the doors and windows are all secure, the landlord could be held liable for the actions of those third parties.

When landlords fail to handle urgent repairs immediately or take reasonable steps to avert an accident by maintaining a property, this can be grounds for asserting compensation.

However, not all cases are necessarily cut-and-dried. Recently in Georgia, the state court of appeals dismissed half a dozen claims related to the collapse of a deck during a rental house party that led to numerous injuries. According to The Daily Report, plaintiffs failed to show the landlord should have known about a rotted board that gave way, ultimately resulting in the collapse.

The deck was about seven feet above the ground when it gave way during a BBQ, when 10 people were standing on it. Four had to be hospitalized.

Plaintiff attorneys said they do not plan to appeal because they recognized it was going to be a tougher case, given that it was a landlord-out-of-possession defense, for which the standard to prove negligence is quite a bit higher.

An out-of-possession landlord is one who does not occupy the building or operate a business out of that building, and therefore can’t be responsible for injuries resulting from certain defective conditions.

State laws vary on this issue. It’s important if you’ve been injured on a rental property to discuss your legal options with an experienced injury lawyer.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:

At Jacksonville’s troubled Eureka Garden, HUD Secretary Ben Carson touts housing vouchers, April 11, 2017, By Sebastian Kitchen, Florida Jacksonville Times-Union

More Blog Entries:

Injury Claims Against the Government Raise Challenges, March 19, 2017, Fort Lauderdale Personal Injury Lawyer Blog