When it comes to premises liability, in most cases the occupier or tenant will be held liable for property conditions that are unsafe, but there are exceptions. The issue of liability will be determined by the party who had control of the property during the time when the personal injury was sustained.
Property Owner Vs. Occupier: Who Is Responsible for Premises Liability?
Most properties that are non-vacant and not occupied by the owner will be occupied by either a commercial or residential tenant. However, an individual who is occupying a property without the consent or awareness of the owner may be liable for premises liability if the judge decides they controlled the property during the time the accident occurred. A simple test can be used to determine this, which goes as follows:
- The party that is occupying a property with the intent to manage it will be held liable
- The last individual to occupy a property that has been abandoned with the intent to manage it will be liable.
- If the two cases above are invalid, then the person who is legally qualified to occupy a property will be held liable.
Therefore, the occupier or tenant is both possibly liable for damage occurring on the part they were renting, but also for any area they intentionally took control of.
There are scenarios in which the owner may be held liable. An example of this would be if the property is not currently occupied or being rented out, but a person who has been hired to clean, paint or work on the property sustains an injury that the owner should have knew and warned them about, but didn’t.
Another example would be an injury that occurs in a common area used by numerous tenants, like a stairwell, hallway, or elevator. In this case, the injured party will not be held liable because they do not occupy the common area, and it is the responsibility of the owner to make sure tenants can traverse or use it without sustaining injury.
There have also been cases where landlords have rented out a property to a tenant that they knew had hazards but refused to notify the tenant or fix the issue, usually because they want to save money. In this situation, even if an occupant is in complete control of their rented space, the injuries resulting from the dangerous condition will make the landlord legally liable.
Ordinance and Leases
It is important for tenants to review leases and ordinances before renting a property. There have been cases where the landlord notified the tenant of the environmental issue and confirmed in the lease that the occupant must repair it. There are also lease stipulations that state that a landlord will not be held liable for any hazardous conditions that occur while a tenant occupies the property. This stipulation may hold up in a court of law unless there are specific laws or regulations that override it.