Landlord Liability for Personal Injury





Landlords may be liable for personal injury if they fail to maintain safe common areas such as common stairs, common walkways and hallways, cabanas and clubhouses, pools, and playgrounds.

Residential landlords are obligated to keep rental units safe under the warranty of habitability. The warranty of habitability imposes upon landlords a duty to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition. The warranty of habitability requires the landlord abide by laws and building codes that keep the rental safe; maintain structural components including roofs, floors, walls, chimneys, fireplaces, foundations; keep any shared or common areas reasonably safe from defects increasing the hazards of fire or accident; maintain all electrical, plumbing, heating systems; and equip the rental unit with a smoke detector, among other duties.

Landlords may also be liable if the lease contract requires the landlord to maintain a component of the property, the landlord fails to do so, and this failure results in injury.

Pocket Brief on Landlord Liability for Personal Injury

“The case law is quite confusing in this area.” This is the conclusion of the Washington Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions in the official comments in the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions.[1] Information on this website is never a substitute for legal advice, and in an area of law that is unsettled and evolving it is particularly wise to consult with a lawyer about your circumstances. Nevertheless, you may find this short summary on the law of landlord liability for personal injury informative.

Landlord liability for personal injury may be based on 1) common law, 2) the warranty of habitability, or 3) breach of the rental agreement.

Common law.

A landlord has a duty to use ordinary care to keep common areas (common stairs, common hallways, playgrounds, etc.) in a reasonably safe condition. This duty applies to both residential and commercial rental properties.[2]

A landlord is liable for injury caused by an open and obvious dangerous condition if the landlord should anticipate that the tenant (or a guest of the tenant), will make use of the common area in spite of such open and obvious condition.[3]

The duty to keep common areas safe includes removal of snow and ice.[4]

The warranty of habitability.

There is an implied warranty of habitability in all residential tenancies.[5]  Breach of the warranty of habitability can be the basis for liability for personal injury if the condition makes the rental property unsafe.[6]

Breach of statues or building codes is evidence of negligence, but if related to electrical fire safety or the use of smoke alarms is negligence per se (as opposed to mere evidence of negligence).[7] 

Breach of the rental agreement.

The landlord may be liable for personal injury based on breach of contract if (a) the landlord has contracted to keep the rental unit in repair; (b) the disrepair creates an unreasonable risk that if the landlord had followed the rental agreement would have been prevented; and (c) the landlord fails to exercise reasonable care in performing the lease contract.[8]

Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.

Breaches of the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act may be a legal basis for landlord liability for injuries to tenants. [9]










Travis Scott Eller has decades of experience in both personal injury and landlord-tenant law. He has lectured on landlord-tenant law at continuing legal education and industry seminars many times. He had tried landlord-tenant law related cases and successfully argued them in the Court of Appeals.

If you have been injured on a rental property contact our office for a free personal injury case evaluation.

National Institute for Trial Advocacy


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Tenant Injury on Stairs

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Landlord Responsibility for Injuries to Guests

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Suing John Doe

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Another Brick in the Fall

A tenant noticed that a stone above the fireplace mantel was loose and about to fall. She was alarmed that it might fall and injure a child playing nearby. She tried to hold it, but it fell and injured her shoulder. She sued her landlord for personal injury.

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Landlord-Tenant Personal Injury FAQs

Possibly. Landlords have legal duties to maintain the premises. Landlord can be liable for stairs that are not properly maintained or reasonably well lit.

Consult with an attorney if you were injured and believe the landlord was wrong.

Retaliatory eviction is illegal. If your rent is current and you are otherwise in compliance with the lease, it is illegal for the landlord to evict you for exercising your rights under the lease and/or under landlord-tenant law, including the right to a reasonably safe rental unit and common areas.

Depending on where you live, if you are month-to-month the landlord in general can terminate your tenancy with 20 days’ notice. But, again, this is illegal if it is retaliation.

If the landlord seeks to evict you or raise your rent (without an economic justification) within 90 days of you asserting your rights, this is legally presumed to be retaliatory, so long as rent is current and you are in compliance with the lease terms.

Some landlord’s have insurance with coverage for medical expenses, often called “Medical Pay” coverage or “med pay” for short. This covers medical expenses from personal injury regardless of fault.

If a landlord does not have med pay coverage, medical expenses would be part of the personal injury claim and would have to wait for settlement.

If a tenant’s insurance covers medical expenses and that tenant recovers for personal injury from the landlord, the tenant might have to reimburse their own insurance company under legal rules called subrogation. You will need to be sure this is accounted for in any personal injury settlement.

A personal injury attorney can help investigate your claim and answer any questions.

If a tenant or guest is injured on rental property there may be a personal injury claim.

One important factor is where the accident happened. For example, did the injury occur in a common area like a pool or common staircase, or inside a dwelling unit? If inside a dwelling unit, did the tenant give the landlord notice of the defect?

In some situations laws protect both the tenants and guests. In other situations this is less clear.

Consult with an attorney for information about your situation.

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[1] WPI 130.06. While admittedly the comment was directed to a narrower legal point, it applies just as well to the topic of landlord tort liability as a whole.

[2] RCW 59.18.060(3). Cherberg v. Peoples Nat. Bank, 88 Wn.2d 595, 564 P.2d 1137 (1977).

[3] Curtis v. Lein, 169 Wn.2d 884, 239 P.3d 1078 (2010) (regarding a tenant's use of a dock); Tincani v. Inland Empire Zoological Soc'y, 124 Wn.2d 121, 139, 875 P.2d 621 (1994).

[4] Geise v. Lee, 84 Wn.2d 866, 529 P.2d 1054 (1975).

[5] Foisy v. Wyman, 83 Wn.2d 22, 515 P.2d 160 (1973); RCW 59.18.060.

[6] Lian v. Stalick, 115 Wn.App. 590, 62 P.3d 933 (2003).

[7] RCW 5.40.050.

[8] Tucker v. Hayford, 118 Wn.App. 246 at 251, 75 P.3d 980 (Div. 3 2003).

[9] Martini v. Post, 178 Wn.App. 153, 167, 383 P.3d 473 (2013); Tucker v. Hayford, 118 Wn.App. 246, 75 P.3d 980 (2003); Lian v. Stalick, 106 Wn.App. 811, 25 P.3d 467 (2001).