Getting injured on a rental property can create a difficult situation for everyone. The elements of landlord liability, negligence, and breach of duty typically require the involvement of attorneys and insurance companies.
Landlords are not automatically liable for every injury that occurs on their property. A personal injury claim would only be warranted if the landlord’s action, inaction, or carelessness led to the injury. However, these cases are rarely black and white.
In this post, we want to explain how landlord liability may – or may not – be grounds for a personal injury lawsuit. Let’s get into it.
A Landlord’s Duty of Care
When a tenant signs a lease, the landlord is obligated to provide a safe living environment. Under Illinois law, they must:
- Make sure the plumbing does not leak
- Exits are not blocked
- The unit is free of pests
- The roof does not leak
- The floorboards are not rotting
- The paint is not peeling
- The plaster is not loose
- Lights in common areas are working
These are the basic responsibilities landlords owe to tenants. Failing to do so may fall under the category of landlord negligence or carelessness. In some cases, the link between an injury and the landlord’s action (or inaction) is clear. For example, if a rotting floorboard breaks and a tenant gets injured, this would fall under landlord liability.
Other times, landlord liability is not as clear. For instance, say an intoxicated tenant falls down the stairs and gets injured. The landlord may claim the fall was due to the tenant’s actions – not their ability to maintain the stairway.
Landlord liability for tenant injury claims can get extremely complicated. You’ll need to consult with a personal injury lawyer to learn about your options.
When Are Landlords Liable for Accidents?
If an injury on a rental property falls under the umbrella of landlord negligence, the victim may be eligible for benefits under personal injury law. Now, the vast majority of injuries on rental properties are unintentional. But the act (or failure to act) may be the primary cause of the accident if an ordinary person could reasonably foresee the hazard.
If a personal injury case is filed claiming landlord negligence led to the accident, several factors will be examined. Here are a few of the main scenarios that indicate landlord liability.
Landlord Has Control Over a Dangerous Condition
This is the most common causation for injuries in rental properties. Landlords may be trying to save money on maintenance expenses and fail to fix a hazard. Or, if the landlord doesn’t visit the property to conduct due diligence, they may not even notice there was a hazard – which does not excuse them from landlord liability.
For example, if a tenant falls down the stairs due to a broken step or faulty handrail, this would likely fall under landlord negligence.
Landlord Has Knowledge of an Unseen Danger
This scenario commonly occurs when a landlord does not want to spend the money to fix an issue. For example, mold problems and water damage are extremely expensive – and the landlord may conceal these issues and decide not to notify the tenant(s). If a tenant gets sick, they may be able to file a landlord negligence lawsuit.
Accidents Are Foreseeable
If a reasonable person can see a potential hazard in a rental, the landlord is obligated to mitigate the problem. Say there is a loose handrail or torn carpet. These problems could easily cause an accident in the building – and are visible to anyone.
If repairs are in progress, the landlord should notify tenants of the pending repairs and provide an alternative in the meantime.
The Measures to Prevent an Accident Are Feasible
Landlord negligence may be warranted if there was a simple and affordable solution to prevent an injury. For instance, say there is an uneven step to access the front door of an apartment building. The landlord could easily attach a reflector strip or paint a bright stripe to warn tenants of the hazard.
If a serious injury occurs, the courts may attribute landlord liability because the risk of injury was significantly greater than the cost of the remedy.
Landlord Failed to Take Proper Steps to Prevent Accidents
This is a general concept that applies to landlord liability. To reiterate, landlords are obligated to provide a safe living environment to tenants. If they fail to perform proper upkeep to maintain a reasonable standard of safety, they will likely be held liable for injuries.
A common scenario in Illinois is snow/ice removal. If a landlord fails to clear ice from walkways or put down salt – and a tenant slips and gets injured – the landlord may be held liable.
Examining Fault: Comparative vs Contributory
Determining fault in a tenant injury can involve a lot of gray areas. Sometimes, the landlord may only be partially to blame. To echo a previous example, say a tenant is intoxicated and trips due to a broken stair. A court might find both parties are partially to blame for the accident.
These types of situations warrant either comparative or contributory fault to properly attribute liability.
Comparative fault is when a court assigns percentages of responsibility in a personal injury case. The court may rule that the intoxicated tenant was 25 percent responsible for the fall and there was 75 percent landlord liability for the broken stair.
The compensation award will be proportionate to the percentage of liability in the case. If the tenant’s responsibility is greater than the landlord’s, the courts may not award the tenant with any compensation. These situations are why it’s so important to have a skilled tenant injury attorney on your side. Their primary goal is to attribute as much liability as possible to the landlord to maximize your settlement.
Contributory fault is a harsh rule in tenant injury cases. This applies when the courts decide the tenant’s actions contributed to the accident – even if it’s only a tiny percentage. For example, say the tenant tripped on a torn carpet in the hallway, but their shoes were untied. Under contributory fault, the courts may assign all liability to the tenant and the landlord will not have to pay anything.
This outcome is very rare – and may only happen if the tenant has zero legal representation.
Landlord Negligence Per Se
Negligence per se is a legal theory that automatically rules a landlord negligent if they violated certain laws.
For example, landlords in Illinois are required to provide a fire extinguisher in the hallway of every floor if the building is more than three stories. If the landlord failed to do this and a tenant suffers a burn injury, landlord liability may be attributed automatically.
Tenants who plan to sue their landlord under the theory of negligence per se must be able to prove:
- The landlord violated a state or city law/ordinance related to tenant safety.
- The purpose of the law/ordinance in question was put in place to protect tenants from injuries.
- The injury falls under the category of the law/ordinance that is supposed to protect the tenant
- The landlord’s violation of the law/ordinance directly (or indirectly) caused the injury.
States and cities have different laws for the landlord to protect the safety and health of their tenants. If their action or inaction around these laws led to an injury, it’s common for the courts to attribute an injury to negligence per se.
What Are Your Options?
Tenants who suffered an injury in a rental unit may be wondering: can you sue your landlord for negligence?
The short answer is yes – but it depends.
Many factors play into a landlord negligence claim. Here is an overview of how to sue a landlord – and what you’ll need to do:
1. Understand the state’s laws/ordinances.
To reiterate, all states and cities hold landlords to certain laws to protect tenants. The first step in the process is to research your landlord’s responsibilities to provide tenants with a livable space in your area. From here, you can get a better picture of landlord liability.
2. Determine the nature of the issue.
Landlords are legally required to uphold certain standards in their rental properties. You’ll need to prove they violated these responsibilities – which led to your injury. Did they fail to fix a hazard promptly or fail to notify tenants of the hazard?
You’ll need to collect evidence that proves landlord liability. This includes (but is not limited to):
- Photos of the hazard
- Statements from other tenants
- Timeline of how long the hazard was present
These pieces of information will be crucial if you file a tenant injury claim.
3. Contact a personal injury lawyer
If you believe you have a valid claim for landlord negligence, you need to hire a personal injury lawyer – even if you think your case is crystal clear. Most landlords have liability insurance to combat tenant injury claims like yours. Trying to negotiate a fair settlement with these insurance providers will be extremely difficult (maybe impossible)
Now, many people falsely believe they cannot afford a personal injury attorney. The fact is these lawyers work on a contingency fee agreement. This means they make a percentage of the total settlement AFTER they win the case. Moreover, they won’t charge you anything until a settlement is reached.
Attributing landlord liability and fighting for fair compensation is a long, convoluted road – with many moving parts. Plain and simple, you need a skilled attorney to manage your claim and negotiate with insurance companies. Representing yourself in a personal injury case will likely end in a lowball settlement.
If you have any questions about landlord liability or personal injury law in Illinois or Indiana, Midwest Injury Lawyers is here to answer them. Even if you don’t have a valid tenant injury claim, we’re happy to clear up your concerns.