• Focus on Possession and Knowledge to Identify Potential Landlord Liability for Injuries on Leased Property
  • January 14, 2014 | Author: Matthew M. Hennesy
  • Law Firm: Barley Snyder - Lancaster Office
  • While the general rule is that a landlord is not responsible for injuries suffered by a tenant or the tenant’s guest on the leased property, there are several circumstances where the landlord can be held liable. The exceptions to the rule focus on the landlord’s possession over the leased property and the landlord’s knowledge of potentially dangerous conditions. Landlords and tenants that consider the landlord’s possession and knowledge of conditions will be better situated to identify and address liability situations.

    Possession
    The general rule is that a landlord out of possession is not responsible for injuries suffered by a tenant or the tenant’s guest on the leased property. There are instances, however, where a tenant leases property, but the landlord maintains control over a portion of the property. Where the landlord reserves control over a portion of the property, the landlord can be held liable for injuries caused by dangerous conditions on or negligent maintenance of that portion of the property that the landlord controls (the “reserved control exception”).

    The most obvious instances of reserved control involve “common areas” such as shared steps or hallways in buildings leased to multiple tenants. The applicability of the reserved control exception is not limited to such well defined “common areas.” A court in Pennsylvania determined that a tenant seriously burned by steam from a radiator connected to a central steam-heating system controlled and operated by a landlord could hold the landlord liable under the reserved control exception. Generally, the owner of a building that leases out different parts of the building has control over those areas not specifically leased by tenants and can be held liable for negligent maintenance of those areas even though the tenants may have a right to use them.

    Knowledge
    Other exceptions to the general rule revolve around the landlord’s knowledge of dangerous conditions on the property. The landlord’s knowledge of dangerous conditions is key to identifying liability risk. Landlords can be held liable for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition known to the landlord. For example, if a landlord has knowledge of a dangerous condition existing on the property at the time the tenant begins leasing the property and fails to disclose the condition, the landlord can be held liable for subsequent related injuries. Similarly, a landlord can be held liable if the landlord leases the property for a purpose involving the admission of the public and it neglects to inspect for or repair dangerous conditions existing on the property before the tenant takes over control of the property. A landlord can be held liable for injuries if it failed to make repairs after having been given notice of and a reasonable opportunity to remedy a dangerous condition of the leased property. Where the leased property is so dangerously constructed that it is a nuisance per se or the landlord undertakes to repair the property and negligently makes the repairs, the landlord also faces potential liability.

    Conclusion
    The common thread in the foregoing examples where landlords are held liable for injuries to tenants or third parties is the landlord’s control over the areas where the injury occurred or knowledge of a dangerous condition on the leased property. Landlords and tenants stand to benefit from clearly communicating which areas of a building are under their possession and the existence of dangerous conditions on the property.