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Landlord Tips for Injury Liability

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Now that winter is here in full force, if you’re a landlord it’s a good idea to think about some things you can do to reduce the injury liability associated with your investment property portfolio.  Assuming you are located in an area that gets cold enough for snow and ice, the winter season presents some special challenges because tenants are 10 times more likely to slip and fall during the winter months compared to the other 3 seasons of the year.  And as you know, any slip and fall scenario brings about the risk of getting sued.

In order to appropriately deal with this increased risk, you must have a general idea of how injury claims work.  Of course, the specific property laws and regulations vary from state to state, but in general we can identify some commonalities across most if not all 50 states.

Basically, if someone is injured on your property, he or she must prove negligence on your behalf.  As such, the plaintiff must demonstrate that you have a duty to care for the people living on the premises, and that the injury was not reasonably foreseeable.  If the conditions that led to the injury were reasonably foreseeable, the next step is for the plaintiff to prove that you were negligent in your duty to eliminate the unsafe conditions, and that your negligence was the direct cause of the injury.

Obviously, there’s not much you can argue with regards to your duty to care for your tenants; you are the landlord so this is essentially a given.  Therefore you must prove that the conditions that led to the injury were not foreseeable, or if they were, that you took reasonable steps to correct the problem.

The easiest thing to do in this regard is to make sure that you take care of all aspects of property maintenance, especially to ensure that the sidewalks, driveways, front steps, etc., are free from snow and ice at all times.  In some states, your risk of litigation applies only to “unnatural” accumulations of snow and ice (for example, a large pile of plowed snow), whereas in other states there is no such limitation, so you’ll want to make sure you do your homework.  And make sure that your snow removal contractor plows appropriately, so that, for example, the plow does not leave behind a sheet of black ice.  The other thing you’ll need to do is to always respond to tenant complaints or concerns.  If a tenant complains about a hazardous condition, and you do nothing about it, if the condition causes an injury you will be liable because you will have had foresight into the problem (i.e., it was reasonably foreseeable).

In the final analysis, there is not much we can do about getting sued by a tenant, but we can certainly take the steps necessary to minimize the risk of this happening.  Always have snow and ice removed from your property as soon as possible after it accumulates, make sure the contractor does a professional job, and always take care of tenant complaints and concerns quickly.  If you take these steps, 9 times out of 10 you will come out smelling like a rose.  Good luck!

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