In the U.S. alone, 48.5 million rental units exist, according to data from the 2015 American Housing Survey. And some 16.7 million of these are owned by individual investors, who tend to hold single-family and duplex units.
Individuals investors like you may not own as many properties as a big corporation, but the responsibility for the safety of your tenants and guests is just as great. Of course, as with any legal matter, it is recommended that you consult an attorney about your specific situation before making any decisions.
To protect yourself and your tenants, you need to know the answer to one fundamental question. When are landlords responsible for tenants’ injuries?
According to Cornell Law School, negligence is defined as a person acting (or not acting) in a way that a reasonable person would in their circumstances.
While personal injury laws vary by state, generally, the court system must first show that what you did or didn’t do qualifies as negligence. But the burden of proof isn’t that high.
In most personal injury cases, negligence is usually straightforward. A person under the influence drives the wrong way and hits another car — clearly negligence.
But in real estate, things are a little different. For long-distance landlords, it can be easy to miss apparent repairs or hazards. You’re not there to see what the dangers are.
Regardless, under the legal concept of negligence, when a landlord’s behavior is the proximate cause of a tenant’s injury, a court can hold the landlord liable to the tenant—even if the landlord didn’t intend any harm.
If you find yourself facing a negligence charge or have any specific questions, it is best to contact an attorney and explain your specific situation.
If you are responsible for maintaining and repairing something and someone has an accident before you can do that, then you may be liable.
For example, you’re aware that the old, cracking walkway is a tripping hazard. An elderly visitor of your 20-something tenant trips and breaks a hip. You could be liable.
Hidden dangers are ones that you know may pose some risk. But they’re not simple fixes. Not sharing this with the tenant could make you liable.
These might include:
- An unexpected step in the home or out the door
- Foundation problems
- Finished basement flooding once in a blue moon, which could damage the renter’s property or cause electrocution.
Big Mistake: Confusing Damaging Conditions with Hidden Dangers
It’s important to note that you can’t write everything off as a hidden danger, warn your tenant, and be done with it.
If the risk is great, then the courts would expect a reasonable person to fix it even if it costs significant money.
For example, the deck has rotting support that could cause collapse. No, it’s not okay to simply tell the tenant to not go near that side of the deck.
You should alert your tenant of the danger and then quickly act to fix the damage.
Other Commonly Overlooked Liabilities that Can Cost You
- Pet injuries if you allow pets at your rental
- Criminal acts if noticed and not reported
- Child falls through railing too far apart
- Pools, ponds, hot tubs
- Known sinkholes
- Dying trees
- Dangerous plants for adults, children, or pets (giant cacti, poison Ivy, foxglove, etc.)
For many landlords, the risks associated with certain types of properties or properties in certain areas is just not worth the investment.
Some landlords may enjoy owning properties with pools because they are desirable for tenants, but others see this type of rental as a huge liability.
Personal injury negligence works a little differently depending on your state. But most state laws recognize some form of comparative negligence (also called, comparative fault).
Be sure to check your state’s specific guidelines.
According to Alllaw.com, negligence is generally seen as a percentage. So you and the injured person may hold a proportion of the negligence.
The higher the portion that is yours, the more you might have to pay out in the event of an accident.
When the tenant’s responsibility is greater than the landlord’s, some courts won’t order any monetary award to the tenant. Most courts, however, order a proportionate award.
Is Being a Landlord Worth It?
While there is a lot of reward, there is also a lot of risk for landlords. It’s vital to weigh those risks before you end up in court.
If you try to rent out a property that’s not in tip-top shape, it leaves you more at risk for tenant injury.
So perhaps you’re finding it’s just too expensive to fix the home to safety standards. Or you’re not interested in taking on the risk or liability.
Even if you currently have renters, we invite you to sell to HomeGo instead. Our licensed real estate agents will meet with you for a brief walk-through of the property and present you with a same-day cash offer.
And you can re-invest that money in something that makes sense for your current situation.
Don’t wait until the unthinkable happens. We make selling an underperforming rental fast and simple.