For What Kind of Tenant Injuries Are You Liable?

If a tenant is injured on your property, your first concern is obviously to make sure they are alright. However, it’s also important to understand whether or not you are liable for their injuries. You may be held liable for injuries resulting from:

  • Negligence: Being guilty of negligence means someone has acted carelessly or in an unreasonable manner that causes injuries. The typical example is a landlord who neglects to fix faulty equipment. Landlords have been found negligent when they did not fix a broken handrail and tenants fell off the stairs. Landlords have been found negligent when broken appliances cause electric shock or fire.
Tellus TIP:

In order to avoid being found negligent, make sure your property is kept in good repair. This will keep your tenants happier and limit your liability as a landlord.

  • Violation of a health or safety law: State and local laws usually require smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, sprinklers, safety strips inside the windows, child protective fences around the pool, and other safety measures. According to some states, landlords who do not take reasonable steps to comply with these laws would be considered negligent and liable for any resulting tenant injuries.

  • Failure to make certain repairs: Some landlords have a clause in their lease that prohibits tenants from making repairs without consent. The problem with a clause like this is that if you know a problem exists but don’t take measures to remedy it, you may be found negligent and held liable if your tenant gets injured. The legal rationale is that you did not perform the necessary repair, thereby violating the lease.

  • Failure to keep the premises habitable: If a problem is so serious that the rental unit becomes unsuitable for human habitation, you may be held liable for any damages suffered by the tenant provided you knew about the problem and had reasonable time to resolve it. What makes a house uninhabitable can vary. For example, a broken window will make the house unsuitable for living in North Dakota during the winter, but a torn screen door in the summer in southern California will not.

  • Reckless or intentional acts: If you intentionally or "recklessly" harm tenants, you may be in trouble. In the legal sense, “recklessness” usually means extreme carelessness about obvious defects or problems, such as ignoring fire hazards for several months. Recklessness can be very expensive, making you potentially liable for punitive damages (additional damages beyond the cost of injury).