Landlords, If a Tenant Falls, You May Get Hurt

Sometimes landlords feel that the law treats them as parents and tenants as their children. Two cases earlier this year reinforce that.

The usual rule in “slip and fall” cases is that, if the defect is open and obvious, the fault lies with the person who slipped. Thus, if a person sees a parking lot is slippery and proceeds to walk across it anyway, if he ends up on the ground, a court will not hold the owner of the store/restaurant liable. If a patron steps into what he thinks is a dark bathroom and it is, in fact, a dark staircase, and suffers injuries, he will not be able to recover damages. If he had looked for signage or turned on the light before stepping in, he would have seen it was not a bathroom but a stairway.

Two recent court of appeals decisions remind us the rule is different for tenants. If a tenant slips on an ice-covered sidewalk, the “open and obvious” defense is not available to the landlord. Similarly if a tenant slips down steps he knew to be slippery, the landlord can still be held liable. This is because landlords have a separate duty under state law to keep the leased premises fit for their intended use. If the landlord knew of the problem and did not take prompt steps to fix it, the landlord can be liable, even if the tenant could also easily see the problem and proceeded anyway.

Landlords cannot ignore such problems, even if they are open and obvious to the tenants. Instead, landlords are expected to keep the leased premises fit for their intended use.

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