Is a Landlord Liable for Injuries Sustained in Common Areas?

Tenants are responsible for keeping their apartments clean and paying their rent on time. In exchange, landlords are responsible for performing regular building maintenance and making sure living conditions are up to code. So who is responsible when a renter is injured? The tenant, or the landlord? Philadelphia slip and fall lawyer Brent Wieand explains the limits of landlord liability in Pennsylvania.

What is Premises Liability?

Injuries which occur on or inside of residential or commercial properties fall under an area of personal injury law known as premises liability. Premises is simply a fancy word for property, while liability refers to legal and financial responsibility for an injury. Therefore, the term “premises liability” expresses the idea that property owners are responsible for foreseeable injuries and accidents which happen at a business or private dwelling. This applies to all different types of business owners and property managers, including the owners and landlords of apartment buildings and apartment complexes.

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Like any legal concept, premises liability has boundaries and exceptions. For instance, landlords cannot be held liable for unforeseeable or uncontrollable accidents, such as tornadoes, nor are landlords liable for tenant injuries having nothing to do with unsafe property conditions. For instance, if a tenant is chopping vegetables in their kitchen and accidentally slices their thumb, or accidentally trips over a shoe they left on their bedroom floor, the landlord has no liability because the landlord’s conduct did not in any way contribute to the injury. Mere ownership of a building does not automatically create liability for each and every accident which might happen to occur within its walls.

However, because landlords are legally responsible for maintaining safe and sanitary living conditions for their tenants, a landlord can be held liable if a tenant’s injury results from a hazardous property condition. This applies to common areas of an apartment building, including:

  • Driveways and walkways
  • Elevators
  • Front steps
  • Hallways
  • Lawns
  • Lobbies
  • Recreational areas
  • Shared laundry areas
  • Stairwells
  • Any other areas which are publicly accessible

The potential for landlord liability extends not only to the tenants themselves, but also to any friends or guests who might be on the premises visiting the tenant.

When Are Landlords Liable for Tenant Injuries?

Listed below are some common examples of scenarios in which, depending on the circumstances, a landlord might be deemed liable for compensating the tenant for injuries and/or financial losses:

  • A tenant has a slip and fall accident because of a property hazard, such as a broken stair, a loose carpet which hasn’t been nailed or stapled down correctly, or a wobbly floorboard in the laundry area. In contrast to our earlier shoe example, these sorts of trip hazards are the fault of the landlord, not the tenant.
  • A tenant is taking a shower, when all of a sudden the water temperature becomes scalding hot because the building’s water heater is defective or set incorrectly. The tenant is left with severe burn injuries.
  • A tenant suffers carbon monoxide poisoning because a pipe, machine, or appliance was not installed correctly. Some common sources of carbon monoxide leaks include chimneys, furnaces, gas stoves, and generators.

In short, a landlord must take reasonable steps to repair or avert an existing or developing hazard which could foreseeably harm or kill a tenant. If he or she fails to do so, the landlord may be held liable for personal injury and/or wrongful death, whether such failure was rooted in negligence (carelessness) or intentional, calculated cost-cutting.

The Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code

On a closing note, you may be interested in perusing the Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code, a hybrid code which blends its own unique provisions with provisions borrowed from standardized international codes established by the International Code Council. Like other counties, Philadelphia periodically updates its code with amendments and modifications to existing regulations.

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Remember, regardless of where they are located or how their leasing agreements are structured, all landlords and property managers are expected to comply with local ordinances. It is mandatory for your landlord to follow the provisions set forth in Philadelphia’s PM code.

If your landlord refuses to take financial responsibility for an injury sustained in a common area, or insists that the tenants are responsible for making structural repairs to the building’s common areas, it may be time to bring an attorney into the situation. To start exploring your legal options for getting compensated in a free and completely private legal consultation, call the law offices of Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer Brent Wieand at (888) 789-3161 today.

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes. It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice.***

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