Court Expands Landlord Liability
Ohio’s Supreme Court ruled this week that landlords there have the same legal obligation to guests as tenants, a finding that may change the way some landlords manage properties.
The case involves a young woman who was injured when she fell on the stairs outside a friend’s apartment and went through a glass panel. She left the apartment late at night, and claimed a light fixture was not working properly, causing her fall.
The victim’s lawsuit against the landlord was originally dismissed by the trial court, but later revived on appeal. The trial court determined that a guest is not owed the same duty of care as a tenant.
The level of liability a landlord owes to guests and others on the property has been the subject of some controversy, and differs from state to state. For instance, many state courts have determined that the contractual relationship between a landlord and tenant warrants a higher degree of care than that owed to a stranger visiting the building. The difference in the standard affects how far a landlord must go to keep a property safe, including warning of possible dangers.
In this case, the landlord argued the fact that it was dark outside was an obvious hazard, that the woman chose to use the stairs knowing the light was broken.
However, the woman was granted a re-trial, and now must prove negligence on the part of the landlord using the new standard of care.
Regardless of the outcome, landlords in Ohio may need to review their policies with respect to the frequency of property inspections, maintenance, and providing warnings needed to avoid liability.
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