Could the Owner of a House Be Held Liable for Renters?

by Samantha Kemp, Demand Media
    A landlord is generally required to keep a premises safe.

    A landlord is generally required to keep a premises safe.

    Owning a rental property allows you to collect additional income each month, but being a landlord also imposes certain legal liabilities upon you. Rules vary by state, but a landlord can be held liable for injuries that renters sustain or cause under certain situations. Learning about the laws of your state and taking proper precautions can help you limit your liability.

    General Rules

    A landlord must comply with the laws of his state, including building codes, health codes and statutes that detail his duties as a landlord. Some states have no requirement that a rental property be habitable, while other states require a landlord to make all necessary repairs to keep a property in a livable condition. A landlord may also be required to keep common areas safe and may have further duties as required by the terms of a lease. Lawsuits that are filed against landowners are generally based on a contract claim or a tort claim for negligence.

    Premises Liability

    A landlord may be held liable for injuries incurred by renters or third parties. Some states will impose liability if the owner failed to maintain a safe premises and it resulted in an injury. In order to win a case against the landlord, the plaintiff must show that the landlord owed a duty to maintain the premises, the landlord breached the duty and the breach caused an injury. Some states will limit the liability imposed on landowners. For example, legislature has been passed to limit the liability of an owner if he inquired into environmental conditions of the home and took all reasonable steps to correct any negative conditions. Landlords are generally not liable for injuries that are sustained by a trespasser.

    Animals

    A landlord is generally not liable for damages that result because of animal bites. This is based upon the concept that the landlord does not exercise dominion or control over the animal. However, the landlord may be liable for damages that ensue if he was aware of the animal's viscous nature or if the animal had previously attacked other individuals or posed an unreasonable risk of harm to another person.

    Tenant Actions

    A landlord is generally not liable for a tenant's actions that result in harm to another person or his property. This is also based on the notion that the tenant has control over the premises and the actions that take part on it. However, if the landlord knows about the tenant's actions and expressly or impliedly condones the actions, he could be held liable under certain legal theories such as for a nuisance claim.

    Considerations

    A landlord can limit his liability by purchasing homeowner's insurance that has a large limit for liability coverage. He may also require tenants to carry renter's insurance with liability coverage. Ensuring that he complies with local statutes and ordinances can also help the landlord limit his liability.

    About the Author

    Samantha Kemp is a lawyer for a general practice firm. She has been writing professionally since 2009. Her articles focus on legal issues, personal finance, business and education. Kemp acquired her JD from the University of Arkansas School of Law. She also has degrees in economics and business and teaching.

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