Most people take significant precautions to safeguard their health and their lives, and the health and lives of their families. Whether it’s working out, quitting smoking, or staying alert around unfamiliar people and places, we put a lot of conscious and unconscious effort into our survival and wellbeing. Nobody can be on guard twenty-four hours a day (in fact it’s detrimental to your health to try), and hidden dangers often arise when we feel least threatened and begin to relax. This is part of why accidents are the third leading cause of death in the U.S, and why having a safe home environment to retreat to is so important.
According to the National Safety Council, preventable injuries resulted in the deaths of 161,374 U.S residents in 2016, and a further 6.3 million such injuries required hospital treatment. Preventable injury deaths have risen by 86% in the past 24 years, and more than 50% of these injuries happen at home. With the majority of Americans now living in multifamily residences, a majority that expands every year, the circumstances leading to these injuries are often beyond the control of victims, determined by their landlords and building managers.
Apartment complex landlords are legally responsible for maintaining safe, habitable conditions for their tenants, but unfortunately, not every landlord takes this responsibility duly seriously to protect against premises liability in Atlanta.
Poorly Maintained Stairs and Walkways Lead to Fall Injuries and Death
The danger posed by trip-and-fall/slip-and-fall accidents is often downplayed and underestimated. People who suffer falls, especially those who speak up about unsafe conditions afterward, are frequently characterized as careless, complaining, or eager to “game the system,” but recovery from a fall is often painful and costly, and the issue of fall prevention is deadly serious.
Falls are the leading cause of death in people 65 and older, as well as the leading cause of nonfatal injury in people 19 and under, and the overall leading cause of traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries are most common in falls that involve stairs, which make up about 36% of fall injuries altogether. Most stairs in apartment complexes are found in common areas, where only the landlord can or should arrange the maintenance that residents rely on to prevent these kinds of accidents.
No matter how careful people are, adherence to building safety codes makes a dramatic difference in resident safety, as evidenced by one survey of child falling accidents in Texas, in which 100% of accidents occurred in older buildings, around windows and balconies that didn’t meet modern safety codes.
Landlords are presently not required to update older buildings to reach full compliance, but they still have to address all serious safety hazards, especially if accidents have already occurred. Regardless of a building’s age, architectural features that were once safe and compliant can easy become hazardous as a result of inadequate maintenance. For example, the Georgia Building Code requires all outdoor staircases to be designed so as not to allow rainwater to collect on walking surfaces, and to have usable handrails on both sides (with some exceptions for spiral stairs and very short sets of steps).
Years of rust and warping can render handrails unsafe or useless, allow water to collect in new places, or even lead to total collapse if left unchecked, as happened in one DeKalb County apartment complex in 2017. Not only was the complex’s staircase left to deteriorate until it partially gave way, slamming a tenant into the wall, but when management finally replaced it, several upstairs tenants were left trapped in their apartments, with a last minute notice on their doors stating that stair access would be suspended for three days. The trapped residents eventually contacted a local news station, where a reporter called in the fire department to rescue them.
Single level walkways also pose a fall hazard when allowed to deteriorate. The Federal Highway Administration provides a fairly comprehensive set of guidelines for public sidewalk maintenance that landlords can also make use of to prevent accidents. After all, people use paved walkways in much the same way whether they’re in common areas of a complex or public areas of a neighborhood. Significant slab displacement in either setting can cause the same tripping accidents, especially among people who are elderly or carrying heavy loads, and cracks can cause the same snags on bicycle and wheelchair tires.
Many landlords encourage tenants to adopt a “you get what you pay for” attitude and assume that cracked and sinking sidewalks are a reasonable trade-off for affordable rent. In reality, not only is safety legally non-negotiable, but there are many low- and medium-cost solutions available to landlords that can counteract accident risks for years at a time, including:
- Patching — the use of asphalt to replace missing pieces of concrete.
- Sealing — the use of rubber or polymer to prevent water from seeping into cracks and worsening the problem.
- Wedging — the use of asphalt to create a makeshift ramp between a sunken paving slab and a raised one.
- Grinding — the shaving down of a raised paving slab until it forms a flat surface or ramp with the one beside it.
- Slab-jacking — the injection of cement under a sunken slab to raise it to the level of the one next to it.
Of course, there comes a point when the only viable solution is to replace or completely resurface a paved area, and when necessary for tenant safety, a landlord is responsible for having this done.
Out-of-Code Plumbing Can Cause Serious Burns and Illness
The phrase “out-of-code plumbing” conjures up images of cold, low-pressure showers in rust-tinted water, but some building-localized plumbing issues can be subtler and far more dangerous.
Georgia’s plumbing code requires that tap water temperatures not exceed 140 degrees within a boiler and 120 when exiting a showerhead, and for good reason. Approximately 5,000 children per year are hospitalized in the U.S due to scalding injuries from hot tap water. Even in the case of healthy adult skin, tap water at 140 degrees can cause third-degree burns in just five seconds of exposure. Third degree burns destroy nerve endings, leave permanent scars, require skin grafts, and can be life-threatening when more than 30% of the body is affected. In spite of safety regulations, it’s not uncommon for residential landlords and managers to turn boiler temperatures up to compensate for low hot water pressure, rather than addressing underlying plumbing issues.
In addition, a slow plumbing leak in a wall provides the perfect environment for mold proliferate. Some varieties of indoor mold can lead to chronic illnesses, most commonly respiratory infections, which can require surgery in severe cases. When mold gathers inside the walls, a slight damp discoloration might be the only visible sign until the infestation wears through to the surface.
As well as sinus and lung infections, residents exposed to moldy conditions may manifest:
- Phantom nerve pain or weakness
- Asthma or asthma-like symptoms
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Chronic fatigue
Symptoms from mold exposure are still poorly understood and can persist for years after the patient has moved or had the home successfully cleaned, so the urgency of addressing plumbing leaks and dampness goes far beyond immediate discomfort.
The Amenities We Rely on Become Fire and Poisoning Hazards When Allowed to Deteriorate
Your landlord is required to keep your apartment in habitable condition, which includes working plumbing, electricity, and heating. Plumbing is not the only one of these basics that can become a threat to residents’ health and lives when inadequately maintained. If you have suffered an accident due to a landlord’s negligence, our Atlanta premises liability lawyer can assist.
The National Fire Protection Association identifies cooking, heating, and electrical malfunctions as three of the seven primary causes of residential fires. In apartment complexes and other multi-family residences, fires cause an annual average of 405 deaths and 3,975 injuries, as estimated by the U.S Fire Administration. Space heaters alone account for 86% of heating fire-related deaths, so failure to repair built-in furnaces during cold weather puts tenants at especially high risk of fatal burns.
Poorly maintained furnaces also rank high among the causes of carbon monoxide poisoning, along with leaky gas stoves and gas-powered space heaters. Carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, and the first symptoms of poisoning are flu-like and easily misattributed to other causes. Victims who are asleep when a leak occurs may die without being woken by symptoms at all.
More than 400 Americans die this way annually, not counting suicides, a further 20,000 are treated in emergency rooms, and 4,000 are hospitalized. For survivors, the brain injuries caused by carbon monoxide poisoning can have permanently debilitating consequences, including loss of hearing, vision, memory, and muscular control.
As well as keeping essential systems and provided amenities in good working order, landlords in Georgia are required to provide and maintain a carbon monoxide detector and a smoke alarm in every unit to protect residents from unpredictable leaks and ignitions. It’s surprisingly easy to get turned around or stumped by normally simple tasks in the chaos of a fire, which is why there must always be a clear, unobstructed exit route from every unit, and emergency exit lights must be connected to a generator in case of power outages. Any landlord who knowingly fails in these precautions is responsible for resulting injuries and deaths. Contact our Atlanta premises liability lawyer for a free consultation.
What to Do If Your Building Is Unsafe
If your building manager or landlord doesn’t respond in a reasonable amount of time to your verbal requests to fix unsafe conditions, make a request in writing and keep a copy for your records. Sending your request by certified mail, or even in an email with a read receipt, will help you prove that the hazard was known about in advance if an accident should happen. Ideally, knowing that this proof exists should be enough to motivate your landlord to make the necessary repairs. You may also want to coordinate with your neighbors, so it is more difficult for your landlord to dismiss your claims or retaliate against you personally.
If there’s still no sign of repairs on the way, it’s a good idea to check the terms of your lease, the Georgia Landlord-Tenant Handbook, and get some personalized legal advice on your options. Remember, however, that your landlord cannot use your lease to avoid responsibility for keeping the property safe. Any clauses that waive this responsibility are illegal and unenforceable. Your landlord is also explicitly responsible for any damages (both injuries and personal property damage) arising from defective construction or failure to keep premises in repair.
What to Do After an Accident Occurs
If you or a loved one has already been seriously injured due to unsafe conditions in your apartment complex, seek medical attention immediately and document the factors that led to your accident as thoroughly as possible. If you have not already done so, take pictures of the damage and/or hazards and reach out to any neighbors you feel comfortable with. Find out if anyone else has suffered any similar injuries or near-misses from the same unsafe conditions, or if anyone witnessed the incident firsthand. Also be sure to preserve records of any relevant communication with your landlord or building manager.
Next, reach out to a legal expert like those at The Stoddard Firm. We have qualified premises liability lawyers standing by at 678-RESULT, and on our online chat function, to discuss the details of your individual case in a free consultation.