Unique legal rules apply to a tenant who is injured in his apartment. These little-known rules determine whether an injured tenant has a compensable claim against his landlord. Two major questions determine the outcome of a landlord-tenant case for personal injuries: First, did the accident or injury occur in a common area of the apartment building, or did it occur within the injured person’s unit? Second, did the landlord retain control over the area where the Plaintiff was injured?
The first issue – whether the injury occurred in the tenant’s apartment unit or in a common area – is extremely important. When an apartment unit is leased to a tenant, and fully in the tenant’s control, the apartment unit is “full demised.” The overwhelming majority of apartments leased on a yearly basis are deemed “full demised,” even though the landlord may enter the unit for repairs or stop by to pick up rent checks. The legal importance of the “fully demised” designation is that a landlord is generally not liable for any injuries that are caused by defects within a fully demised space. Therefore, a tenant injured by a loose handrail in his “fully demised” apartment likely does not have a compensable claim.
On the other hand, if a tenant is injured in a common entryway due to a loose handrail, the landlord is probably liable for the tenant’s injuries if he knew or should have known that the handrail was loose. For example, if a tenant complains to the landlord about the loose handrail, and then later falls because the handrail became unhinged, the claim is likely compensable. This scenario is compensable because the landlord knew or should have known that the handrail was hazardous because a tenant warned the landlord that the handrail was loose.
Second, if a landlord retains control over the area that causes a tenant’s injury, then the landlord may be held liable, even if the injury occurred within a “fully demised” space. For example, if a lease grants a tenant exclusive use of a garage for parking, but the landlord continues to use the garage for storage and parks in it regularly, a tenant’s injury in the garage may be compensable.
A final exception to the rule protecting landlords against liability for injuries in “fully demised” spaces concerns latent defects. A latent defect is one where the landlord knew or should have known of the dangerous defect and the defect is one that the tenant could not have discovered through reasonable inspections. For example, if a landlord hires a carpenter to examine a deck and learns the deck is unstable, but there is no outward appearance that the deck is unstable, the deck is a latent defect. If the deck later collapses, the landlord is likely liable for the tenant’s injuries.
There are many exceptions to the rules outlined above, so if you or a loved one has been injured inside their apartment, contact The Kryder Law Group for your free consultation.