Aug 6, 2021

When Are Landlords Liable for Tenant Injuries?

by 
Obie

You get a call — your tenant is seriously injured. He was walking up the front steps of your rental when he fell, breaking his leg and pelvis. He needs surgery and will be out of work until it heals.

Of course, you feel bad. That step has always been uneven. And, you have to walk carefully over it not to fall. You hope your tenant recovers quickly and can get back to his life. But, that’s the end of it for you, right?

Unfortunately, no. You could be held liable for your tenant’s injury. So, your tenant could sue you to recoup medical costs and any other damages. This can range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Not to mention the lawyer fees you have to pay to mount your defense.

If you didn’t know you could be held liable for tenants injuring themselves on your property, you’re not alone. In this post, we’ll cover when you could be liable for tenant injuries. And, steps to protect yourself from liability. Let’s get started by looking at when you might be liable:

What can landlords be held liable for?

The good news is that you aren’t liable for every tenant injury. You’re only liable for injuries caused/contributed to by something you did or didn’t do (like not fixing a broken step). Or, when you acted carelessly. 

Here’s a deeper look into some scenarios when you could be liable for tenant injuries:

Hidden danger

If you know of something that could injure your tenants but don’t tell them, you could be held liable. 

For example, your rental might have an uneven floor. The unevenness has caused you and previous tenants to trip frequently. But, you don’t mention it to the current tenants. If your tenants injure themselves because of that uneven floor, you could be held liable.

Failure to do legally obligated maintenance

Any maintenance you’re supposed to do (like maintaining common areas) but don’t could result in liability if your tenants are injured.

For example, you’re supposed to maintain common areas in multi-unit properties. But, if you fail to maintain a railing in the common area stairs, you could be liable if a tenant falls and is injured. 

Foreseeable accident

You could also be held liable if you fail to prevent a reasonably foreseeable accident. 

For example, if there’s a loose gutter you need to repair, you could be held liable if it falls and injures your tenant. It’s reasonably foreseeable that an unsecured gutter could fall and hurt someone. So, you could be held liable for not fixing the gutter or not putting signage warning tenants during repairs. 

Failure to fix a problem

If your tenants inform you of a safety concern, you could be held liable for not fixing it. You could also be held liable for not fixing it promptly.  

For example, your tenant might inform you of growing damage to a support column in their parking area. If you do nothing to fix this problem, you could be held liable if the parking structure collapses and injures your tenant. You could also be held liable if you take too long to address the problem, during which time your tenant is injured.

Careless fix

Even if you do fix a problem, you could be held liable for tenant injury if you fix the problem carelessly.

For example, you might fix a broken stair. However, you fix it haphazardly, without making sure it can support the right amount of weight. If your tenant falls through that step and gets injured, you could be held liable for that injury. 

Crime

While you’re not liable for all crimes that happen on your property, you can be held liable in certain instances. If you don’t inform tenants of past criminal incidents or take measures to prevent them, you could be held liable for tenant injury. 

For example, your rental might have been broken into in the past. However, you don’t mention that to your tenants. And, you don’t increase security to keep it from happening again. If your tenant is injured due to a break-in, you could be held liable. 

Law violations 

If you violate safety laws on your property and your tenant is injured, you could be held liable.

For example, your rental may have wiring that’s not up to code. But, you don’t fix it. If tenants are injured in a fire sparked by unsafe wiring, you could be held liable for their injuries because you violated the law. 

This isn’t an exhaustive list of all scenarios when you could be held liable for tenant injury. You could be held liable for any situation you know of that could cause tenant injury. But, it does cover some of the most common liability cases. 

When aren’t landlords liable for tenant injuries?

While you can be held liable for many tenant injuries, you aren’t liable for every injury. One of the most common situations you won’t be liable for is when tenants cause their own injury.

If your tenant falls on your stairs, it might not be your fault. The tenant may have failed to tie his shoe. A court could find that the failure to tie the shoe was a larger cause of the accident than any unevenness on the stairs. In this case, you aren’t liable for tenant injury because it was his fault. 

How can landlords prevent liability issues?

You can’t eliminate all possible injury-causing situations. However, you can take steps to minimize the likelihood of tenant injury and your liability.

One way to minimize liability issues is to regularly inspect your property. With regular inspections, you can uncover issues. And, fix them before they can injure tenants.

Another way to prevent liability issues is to fix any problems you know of quickly. If a tenant informs you of a broken stair railing, you should fix it as soon as possible. You shouldn’t wait weeks or months to take action. Instead, you should fix it the next day to avoid potential liability. 

You should also conduct preventive maintenance. By regularly maintaining crucial systems (like HVAC) and structures (like stairs), you can keep your property in great shape. This helps you prevent any problems from happening – instead of just fixing them after the fact.

Taking these steps can help you reduce your liability for tenant injury.

How can landlords protect themselves from liability?

Minimizing injury-causing situations might not be enough. Even with the proper precautions, your tenants could get injured. And, you could be held liable.

So, what can you do to protect yourself if this happens?

The best way to minimize losses related to injury liability is to get landlord insurance. Your homeowner’s insurance policy likely doesn’t provide the right liability coverage. If you rely on homeowner’s insurance for your rental property, you could be on the hook for all tenant medical and legal expenses related to the injury.

You should make sure your landlord insurance policy comes with liability protection. The average landlord liability insurance usually provides $1,000,000 in liability coverage. If you have a lot of rentals, you might want to look into more liability coverage. 

Don’t have landlord insurance?

Protect yourself and your investment today by getting your Obie landlord insurance quote. It’s fast and easy to get your quote. And you can save up to 25% on landlord insurance.