A 42-year-old Pennsylvania woman recently was awarded $450,000 for injuries she sustained after tumbling down the stairs at a rental property.
The woman claimed the fall was caused by a faulty handrail, and pursued the property owner for compensation. The owner told the jury the steps were safe.
According to the woman’s attorney, Leonard Hill of Hill & Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, the jury found the rental property owner 100% at fault for the woman’s injury.
Premise liability — injury that occurs on property, creates a unique duty for landlords. They must care for the property, inspect for possible hazards, and predict and prevent situations where tenants and visitors are likely to be injured.
To put it in Mr. Hill’s words, “Falls like this one can be prevented if property owners are proactive and behave responsibly.”
One way to accomplish that is frequent inspections of the property. The use of a property inspection checklist can greatly increase the odds of catching deteriorating conditions before a tenant or visitor is injured, and can serve as evidence to a jury that the landlord is reasonably diligent in caring for the property.
Here are some things to check routinely:
Debris in the halls or stairwells
Smoke/carbon monoxide detectors
Loose handrails, worn stairs
Faulty door and window locks
Hazardous materials in storage
Laundry vents, hoses
Unsafe use of extension cords
Aging electrical systems
In addition to routine inspections, adopt a leasing policy that encourages tenants to report problems. This often is the quickest and most effective way to discover potentially dangerous conditions on the property. Avoid making it burdensome on tenants to report issues, like making them fill out a lot of forms. Take tenant complaints seriously. Delays in making repairs can give increase liability.
Recent premise liability verdicts indicate that landlords should be particularly vigilant when it comes to:
The use of pesticides;
Lead, radon, carbon monoxide and other potential environmental hazards;
Secondhand smoke exposure;
Tenant screening, including criminal background checks;
Aging tree limbs;
Blocked access (hoarding) and emergency escape routes;
Weight limits on balconies, rails on rooftop decks; and
Exterior conditions like sidewalk heaving, water leaks that might ice over.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post in not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.