Landlord Responsibility for Injuries to Guests

Sometimes a tenant’s guests are injured because of a dangerous condition in the rental property. Whether the landlord is legally responsible for injuries to a tenant’s guests depends on various factors including whether the property is commercial or residential, whether the injury occurred in a common area, whether the lease contract requires repairs, whether the tenant gave the landlord notice of the condition.

Landlords must keep common areas reasonably safe. Common areas may include things like stairs (outside of the tenant’s unit), hallways, parking lots, laundry rooms, and recreational and fitness amenities. The landlord has a legal obligation to keep common areas reasonably safe because the landlord retains control over common areas. This well-established rule applies in commercial and residential tenancies, and to both tenants and guests. The landlord’s responsibility to keep common areas safe extends even to open and obvious dangers in situations where the landlord should anticipate the tenant or guest will make use of the common area in spite of the open and obvious danger.

A landlord may be liable for failing to make repairs required under the lease contract.

A landlord may be liable for defective repair attempts voluntarily undertaken though not otherwise required by law or contract. A “botched voluntary repair by the landlord constitutes an affirmative act of negligence.” Lian v. Stalick.

In residential tenancies, the landlord has a duty under both case law and statute to keep the premises fit for human habitation. Landis & Landis Constr., LLC v. Nation. Landlords may be liable for injuries to tenants caused by a breach of the warranty of habitability. Tucker v. Hayford; Lian v. Stalick; Pinckney v. Smith.

Whether this rule extends to guests is not settled Washington law. The Court of Appeals in a 2014 opinion noted that while non-binding model laws drafted by legal commentators apply this rule to guests, “there are no Washington cases adopting [the model rule] for this purpose.”

Contrary to common misconception, landowner or landlord responsibility for injuries is often not a cut and dried matter. Consult with an attorney if you have questions.

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