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Home · Property Management · Tenant Screening : Premise Liability: A Landlord’s Grim Reaper?

foreclosurePremise liability is a landlord’s Achilles’ heel – and it can be a game changer.

Without insurance, one claim could very well end your rental property management days. These days, with verdicts routinely reaching into the  millions -even tens of millions,  if your insurance policy has exclusions or pay-out limits you may not be as secure as you think.

To limit the risk of a premise liability claim, and to keep your premiums manageable, consider this:

Landlord Liable for Condition of Rental Property

As a landlord, you are responsible for the safety of your tenants and their guests.  This requires keeping the property in good working order.

Frequently inspect walkways and staircases for wear, and repair them immediately – your top priority. One good rule of thumb:  make sure all repairs are done to code.

Even where the property is not dangerous to the eye, landlords have a duty to warn about foreseeable situations that could become dangerous:  too many people crowded on a balcony or in an elevator, or children falling from high places.  By some folly of human nature, children love to stick their heads and fingers in places you may never consider.  They can’t assess the risk, so you must do it for them.

Landlords Must Provide Security

Landlords are responsible for providing safe access and secure premises.  This means well-lit, unobstructed walkways and entrances, especially around parking lots and alleys.  Doors must be secure, with high-quality strike plates and deadbolts.  Sliding glass doors are common targets for break-ins.  The locks on these doors are notoriously weak, so provide a blocking device, and make certain your tenants know how to use it.  Also, alarm warning stickers on the windows can serve as a deterrent to crime.

The police department in your area may provide you with free information on securing your rental property or offer risk-assessment inspections.  Check out, Crime-Free Seal of Approval.

Keep track of keys, and make sure that a thief can’t trace them to a unit.

Always screen employees and contractors who have access to keys, units or common areas.

Also, prohibit tenant behavior that can lead to injuries – like smoking or using barbeque’s without covers.

Landlords Must Screen Tenants

Many landlords make the mistake of focusing only on credit reports when performing background checks.

A landlord who is renting to tenants with a history of criminal violence is a free lunch for a premise liability attorney.  Make sure you have performed criminal background and sex offender registry checks, and keep that documentation handy.

Make it a habit to speak with the previous landlord and check references on all applicants.  A person may have displayed violent tendencies but have no criminal record.

For more see, 3 No-Cost Tips to Keep Rental Property Crime-Free.

American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your real estate investment including REAL ESTATE FORMS, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at joinaaoa.


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  • Robert

    I am concerned about kids that constantly use our property to jump on the skate boards. Several days a week I am chasing kids away from the property. Unfortunately our drive is angled up and they skate up the drive and over a planted area to the sidewalk below. If they are injured am I responsible?

  • Kim

    Hi Robert,
    A very annoying problem and a very good question. In order to figure out this specific legal problem you have to consult an attorney licensed in your state – but, I did want to point out to you how profoundly complicated your question, “Am I liable?” really is. First off, premise liability is regulated by each state. That means you need to find out in your state what duty you owe – in this case to trespassers (I am assuming these are just neighborhood kids, not your own tenants). Generally that duty is not much – you just can’t do anything intentional to hurt them (like set a tripwire to knock them off their skateboards) and you need to warn of hard-to-see dangers, like wet cement. But your state’s rules may be different than this. A common exception to the “trespasser” rule applies to kids. If you know kids are trespassing, and they can’t assess the risk, then you could be liable. How old the kids are plays into this, as well as how obvious the risk is – harm from an angled driveway is pretty obvious to anyone who understands gravity. But the other complication here is the fact that the trespass in on a driveway or walkway. That raises all sorts of issues regarding state, county, or local ordinances having to do with access. You may be required to keep the driveway clear of hazards, like snow, for instance. That could create a duty to your trespasser. In fact, the area may not even be your property – it may be deeded to the city or county for utilities and improvements. Then there’s the issue of fault – if a child falls, it may not be because of the driveway, but rather a defect in the skateboard — or just bad skateboarding skills! So, it’s not an easy answer, and I would go see an attorney. Many attorneys offer free consultations – you may want to check with one who is familiar with tort law. You may also want to talk to your insurance agent – find out if you are insured for such hazards, or if they have ideas on how to safely deter the skateboarders – at least then you would know how much you have at risk. Thanks for your comment, Kim Ezzell/AAOA Blog Editor

  • Kathy

    My concern is that we live in a mountain community and our units face a canyon. During the past year and a half we have had problems with brown bears invading the garbage cans. I am worried about the safety of our teanents. We have contacted all wildlife agencies possible and the local police and sheriff departments seeking help to rid them. We have been told by every agency that they are a protected species and they cannot and will not do anything to trap and remove them unless they cause physical property damange and can be called to the site at that time the bear is there. We have got an estimate to build a high fence with barbed wire but now they are coming around the street to the front of the units and going in back. This is a 16 unit complex and there are 16 cans. Are we liable if something should happen to someone? We have posted waring signs, telling the tenants to call the local sheriff when they actually see the bear/s on the primises. have contacted the garbage company to obtain possibly a large dumpster but they cannot come down the driveway for pickup with their vehilce for large dumpsters as it is too steep. We have checked on bear safe cans, they are not only very expensive but could be difficult for tenants to use. The main question here is would we be liable? and should that be included in our insurance now that we have this problem.?

  • Joe

    Most insurance companies will do a thorough walk through and inspect the property. They deal with claims on a daily basis so they know what to look for. As a last resort, high insurance limits with an umbrella is the way to go and is quite affordable. Here in CA, it only costs a few hundred dollars for an extra million in liability converage. I feel like the best point of the article is about tenant screening. Most problems can be avoided by keeping potential problems away from your property. Making your property a non smoking property is a wise idea. A high percentage of claims come from smokers.

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