As a landlord, you’re responsible for the well-being of your tenants. As part of that contract, you’re legally obligated to maintain a safe environment and take reasonable action to fix any potentially dangerous issues.
This isn’t a responsibility you should take lightly; it can have serious consequences if not handled properly.
Responsibilities of the landlord
Unless you understand the full range of your duties as a landlord, you might fail to prepare for all the potential issues that could arise. As a starting point, did you know that you could be responsible (to some degree) for such things as medical bills, physical suffering, lost income, physical disability, emotional distress, disfigurement, damage to personal property, and more?
If anything happens on the premises of your property, it could very well come back to you. While that may sound frightening, the good news is that you can mitigate some of that risk by performing your due diligence and protecting yourself from the start.
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When assessing potential cases of personal injury involving a tenant or visitor on your property, Ryan Anderson of Bighorn Law says: “You can be reasonably held responsible for any on-premise injury that results from your negligence or failure to maintain safe living conditions.”
Tips for lowering risk
Depending on the severity of the injuries and the extent to which the injured party seeks compensation, even a minor error or oversight could result in major legal bills or payments. That’s why it’s critical to avoid these situations from the outset.
Here are some tips for lowering your risk:
- Start with a good insurance policy. Waiting until a problem occurs means you’re probably too late. Arrange for good insurance coverage from the start and be sure to discuss the various options with your broker.
- Conduct walk-throughs. While you can hire somebody to inspect your property, the only way to know if it lives up to your requirements is to conduct a careful and meticulous walk-through on your own. Make a habit of inspecting your property before and after every tenant moves in or out. When you’re doing a walk-through, it can be helpful to have a detailed inspection checklist on hand to keep the process organized.
- Pay attention to tenants. If a tenant ever comes to you and mentions that something isn’t right or needs further investigation, you need to follow through on it as soon as possible. Otherwise, it could be argued that you knew about the issue and failed to resolve it. As a matter of fact, you’re required to fix dangerous conditions in a “timely and careful manner.” The courts don’t look with favor upon careless and sluggish landlords.
- Know your state’s laws. Each state has its own laws regarding landlord responsibilities, negligence, and property law. It’s up to you to stay current with changing laws and abide by every one of them. For an overview of state-specific issues, check out Nolo’s landlord-tenant law database.
Get professional legal help
While it may seem like an unnecessary cost if you’ve never had an issue with your tenants in the past, retaining a team of lawyers can give you a lot of peace of mind as well as practical protection.
Remember, whenever you create a new legal document, contract, or form, you should always consult an attorney.