Almost 40% of American families rent their home.
While that number is good for your business, it also introduces potential risks as well. That many people mean the chance of someone getting injured on your rental property is high.
So what does that mean? As the landlord, will you be liable for tenant injuries on your property?
Yes and no.
It depends on a number of factors. That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you understand landlord liability when it comes to injuries.
Keep reading below to learn more!
What Happens If a Tenant Gets Injured on Your Rental Property?
Well, it depends.
Sometimes nothing happens. Sometimes, you can be held completely responsible. It all comes down to what caused the injury.
Here’s a quick breakdown of when landlords are considered responsible for tenant injuries.
Who’s at Fault?
Though a rental property legally belongs to the landlord, not all the injuries that happen on those properties are the landlord’s fault. Landlords are only responsible for injuries if their actions (or lack thereof) somehow contributed to the injuries.
Because of this, many tenant injuries are simply that—tenant injuries.
But this can get sticky sometimes. That’s why we’ve broken down a few different situations to help you understand when you, as a landlord, are responsible for an injury on one of your rental properties.
When the Tenant Is at Fault
Many of the tenant injuries that happen on your rental property won’t be “your fault.”
For example, let’s say one of your tenants trips as they’re walking up the stairs in their rental home. Because of this, they sprain their ankle.
Even though it was an accident, the trip was the tenant’s fault. That means you can’t be held responsible for their injury.
Now let’s slightly tweak our example.
Let’s say one of the steps in your tenant’s rental home was broken. They informed you of the damage and, therefore, of the potential danger, but you didn’t take action to repair the step.
Your tenant then trips on the broken step and sprains their ankle. In this case, their injury was caused by your negligence for not fixing the step.
When the Landlord Is at Fault
A landlord is considered at fault for injuries on their rental properties if their behavior caused the injury. This is true even if you, as the landlord, didn’t intend to cause any harm.
Here are some of the circumstances where your behavior can result in an injury.
- You Had Knowledge of a Potential Danger
You must make all tenants aware of any “hidden dangers” they might not be aware of. This might include things like an uneven floor or other factors that could cause a potential injury.
If you don’t disclose this information and a tenant gets hurt because of it, you’ll be responsible for their injuries.
- It Was a Foreseeable Accident
If you are able to foresee that something might cause an injury, you have to take action to protect your tenants from that danger.
Let’s go back to our broken step example. If there’s a broken step on a communal staircase, you should close the staircase to public use and direct tenants and guest to an alternative route. Failing to do this will mean the blame is on you if someone does get hurt.
But there’s a difference between foreseeable accidents and unlikely accidents.
For example, a tenant’s pants might catch on the railing as they walk up the staircase, which could cause them to fall. This is an unlikely accident, so you wouldn’t be considered at fault for it.
- You’re Responsible to Maintain the Potential Danger
You’ll be held responsible for any injuries caused by something you’re legally in charge of maintaining and repairing. Since those communal stairs on your property, you’re responsible for them.
If you neglect them and let them fall into poor condition, any injury on them will be your fault.
- You Could Have Reduced the Danger
There are some things you can’t control on your property. Stairs and steps are often unavoidable.
So what happens if someone trips over one of those necessary steps?
If a simple and cheap precautionary measure could have prevented the injury, you might be held responsible. Because of this, it’s always a smart idea to paint bright strips of paints on unexpected or unnoticeable steps.
Take a quick look around your property to find other potential dangers you should take precautions to fix.
- The Injury Was Highly Likely (And Serious)
You should immediately repair or remove anything that will likely cause a serious injury. If an injury does occur, most courts will hold you responsible require you to fix the situation right away.
- You Didn’t Take Reasonable Steps to Prevent the Accident
Failing to take reasonable steps to prevent an accident means you’re being negligent. The injuries could have been avoided if you had taken these steps, so the blame for the injury will be placed on your shoulders.
When Both Parties Are at Fault
In some cases, both parties are partially responsible for the accident.
Let’s say the stair step is still broken, but the tenant was deliberately wearing pants that were much too long for them. It was their pants that caught on the broken step, meaning they might not have tripped if their pants were the right length.
If a court finds both parties responsible, there are a few different things that can happen next.
- Comparative Fault
Comparative fault means the court will assign a certain percentage of responsibility to each party. For example, the tenant might be held 40%, and you, as the landlord, might be held responsible for the other 60%.
But this can go the other way around as well.
Some courts might find the tenants long pants contributed more to the accident than the broken step. If the tenant holds more of the responsibility, the court might not give them a monetary award.
However, it all depends on your exact circumstances.
- Contributory Fault
Some courts use the contributory fault rule. This rule states that if the tenant’s actions contributed to any part of the accident, even just a small amount, they won’t receive any type of award, monetary or otherwise.
But not many courts follow this rule.
Most courts will assign at least part of the responsibility to you. So don’t ignore potential dangers in the hopes you’ll go to a court that uses contributory fault. Odds are that will do more harm than good in the long run.
Can You Be Held Responsible for Criminal Acts?
If a criminal breaks into one of your rental homes and harms one of your tenants, you most likely won’t be held responsible for that. That was out of your control, and there was nothing you could have done to prevent that from happening.
But this is only true if you have provided the best level of security possible.
If one of your tenants asks for a stronger lock system because of criminal activities in the surrounding area, you should provide one. If you don’t, you can be liable for any injuries from break-ins that happen in the future.
What About Guest Injuries?
You can be held responsible for any injuries guests receive on your property even though they don’t live there.
But this is only true if your actions, or lack thereof, contributed to or caused the injury. If the guest’s own actions caused the injury, you can’t be held liable.
How to Prevent Injuries on Your Rental Property
The best way to prevent injuries on your rental property is to be observant.
Find potential dangers on your property and repair them. Put precautions in place for potential dangers you can’t fix, such as unnoticeable steps. Listen to what your tenants say and stay on top of maintenance.
If you do these things, you should be able to prevent serious injuries, or even minor injuries, from happening on your rental property.
Understanding Landlord Liability
Landlord liability should be one of your main concerns as a landlord. Make sure you take precautions to protect your tenants and protect yourself should an injury occur.
Take the time to educate yourself.
We can help with that. Our rental news and landlord tips will help you stay up to date on industry regulations and be the best landlord you can be.