If you’ve decided to file a lawsuit against your landlord, or you’re currently considering it, you’ve probably been living in an intensely stressful situation for a while. You also probably have a lot of unanswered questions.
- When is a landlord negligence lawsuit worth the effort?
- What are valid reasons to sue your landlord for negligence?
- Is there a competent tenant lawyer near me?
- Can my landlord kick me out for suing him?
As in many areas of law, searching for answers can often lead to more questions and an even greater feeling of overwhelm. Landlord tenant law is broad field with a lot of nuance and regional differences, covering everything from discrimination to wrongful eviction to what happens to a tenant’s security deposit.
On this, page, we’ll be focusing on premises liability and implied warranty of habitability, and how these concepts can help you file a successful landlord negligence lawsuit when you have been seriously injured while on rental property. This law firm typically does not handle other types of landlord tenant lawsuits.
Premises liability is the idea that landowners, including but not limited to residential landlords, are always responsible for providing a reasonably hazard-free environment to anyone who has a legal right to be on their property, including but not limited to tenants and their guests.
The implied warranty of habitability is the separate but related idea that, by renting or leasing a space for human habitation, the owner is promising that the space is fit for that purpose. “Habitability” can be somewhat subjective, but at a minimum, it should mean that the space is free of avoidable hazards to life or health, such as a gas leaks or faulty electrical wiring.
While it is possible to sue a landlord for failing to fulfill their duties before any serious damage is done, this law firm does not handle those types of cases. Further, tenants often find the process of forcing a landlord to make repairs or necessary upgrades so daunting and inaccessible that it would be less work to just move out. It shouldn’t have to come to that of course, but sadly, that is often the state of affairs. If you’ve already suffered an injury due to a landlord negligence, however, it does become easier to sue your landlord, and you’re much more likely to reach a settlement that’s worth your while.
If you’re looking for a tenant rights attorney in the Georgia area who specializes in wrongful death, serious personal injury, and/or premises liability, please reach out to The Stoddard Firm. We’ll strategize with you on how to prove landlord negligence by establishing the three basic criteria:
- You landlord had a duty to protect you
- Your landlord failed in that duty
- You suffered a serious injury as a result
Below, we’ll cover some of the most common scenarios in which these three criteria are met, but if you’d like to discuss how to sue your landlord in more detail, we’re standing by to provide a free consultation on your specific case.
Slip and Fall Accidents
Slipping and tripping hazards are one of the most basic examples of premises liability. Although the term “slip and fall” has become unfortunately associated with frivolous lawsuits in many people’s minds, there’s nothing frivolous about fall-related injuries.
In the U.S, falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries, nonfatal injuries in people under 20, and fatal injuries in people over 65. They’re also the second leading cause of spinal cord injuries.
Falling down stairs is especially dangerous, with the combination of height and hard edges increasing the likelihood of head injuries, broken hips, and broken shoulders.
Landlords can greatly reduce tenants’ and guests’ risk of fall injuries simply by maintaining their buildings to comply with applicable codes, including the Georgia Building Code and the International Building Code, particularly as they apply to stairs and walkways.
Specifically, a landlord should ensure that:
- Walkways in common areas are level and free of obstructions and tripping hazards
- Stairways and drop-offs are equipped with handrails at the appropriate height
- Handrails are easy to grasp and capable of supporting at least 200 lbs.
- Stairways are in good condition and easily capable of supporting normal traffic
- The rise and run of the stairway meet the rules such that you do not have to take large strides to reach the next step or be required to put your feet on narrow ledges
- Stairways have a landing such that you are not opening a door and immediately encountering a step
- Outdoor walkways and stairways have adequate drainage to prevent water from collecting and creating a slipping hazard
Relevant building code violations are definitive reasons to sue your landlord for negligence if you’ve been injured in a fall.
Fires are another major safety issue that tenants face, and that landlords must mitigate in order to comply with the implied warranty of habitability.
Based on a survey by the U.S Fire Administration spanning 2008-2017, an average of 508 people die in residential fires every year, 395 of them in multifamily structures. A further 4,520 people are injured each year, 4,060 of them in multifamily structures.
In addition to the building codes, landlords should also adhere to the International Fire Code to keep tenants and guests safe.
Fire safety measures should include:
- Keeping electrical and gas systems in good condition
- Correctly placing and maintaining smoke detectors and fire extinguishers
- Having an appropriate number of exits from each room such that a fire does not trap a tenant
- Keeping exit routes clear at all times
- Making sure doors and walls have the required level of fire resistance
- Preventing heating and power outages unless necessary for maintenance or immediate safety
- Installing and maintaining a fire sprinkler system – if the building is large enough such that it is required by code
Some of these techniques, like providing smoke detectors and clear exit routes, can save tenants’ lives after a fire has already started, while others, like maintaining heating and electrical systems, can reduce the risk of fire altogether by addressing the underlying causes.
The top causes of structure fires, as identified by the National Fire Prevention Association, are problems with cooking, heating, electrical systems, smoking, and candles.
Standalone space heaters in particular are the most dangerous method of indoor heating, accounting for a whopping four out of five heating-related fire fatalities. Simply keeping built-in heating systems in good working order can greatly decrease these fatalities, by preventing tenants from needing to seek out alternatives.
Even when a fire starts entirely due to a tenant’s mistake — someone smoking in bed, for example — it’s often possible for other tenants to hold the landlord liable for tenant negligence, depending on the building’s general fire safety compliance. The landlord might have nothing to do with the ignition, but still be responsible for the rate at which the fire was able to spread through the building, or the obstacles other tenants faced while trying to get out.
Many of the same hazards that can cause structure fires — poorly maintained furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, and gas stoves — can also cause carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. This is because CO is produced whenever carbon-based fuels are burned, and it’s produced in large quantities whenever those fuels are burned in poorly-ventilated areas. Attached garages with inadequate ventilations systems are another a major source of CO poisoning.
CO is colorless, odorless, and extremely toxic, and early poisoning symptoms tend to mimic those of a flu. It kills at least 400 people in the U.S every year, and sends at least another 20,000 to the emergency room, though there may be many more cases misattributed to other causes.
Many of the same safety measures that protect tenants from fire will also offer some protection from CO, but every residential unit should also be equipped with a dedicated CO detector. Although the state of Georgia currently only requires landlords to provide these detectors in new one- and -two-family homes and townhomes of three stories or less, choosing not to provide one could still be considered negligence if it results in a death or injury.
CO poisoning is foreseeable, and CO detectors are quite reasonably priced, so there’s really no excuse not to protect tenants from this danger.
Additionally, CO poisoning is often the result of a poorly installed gas appliance that allows CO to leak into the home, and the landlord is responsibly for having gas appliances installed by a licensed and experienced contractor who follows all industry standards when installing the appliance. Importantly, the landlord is actually liable for the negligence of its contractors when those contractors fail to properly install appliances.
Out-of-code plumbing is a common cause of severe burns, especially in children. When hot water pressure becomes an issue in old or badly designed plumbing systems, a negligent landlord will often turn up the heat in the boiler, so that tenants can achieve the desired temperature/pressure combination by turning up the cold water. This practice is a dangerous and illegal substitute for real plumbing repairs.
Water that leaves the tap at 140 degrees Fahrenheit can cause permanently disabling and potentially life-threatening third degree burns within six seconds. At 150 degrees, the necessary exposure time for third degree burns goes down to two seconds. If the boiler is turned up too high, this can happen due to a moment’s inattention, or even a minor fluctuation in the cold water pressure.
To prevent scalding accidents, landlords are required to keep water temperature under 140 in the boiler, and under 120 when exiting a showerhead. Landlords are also required to install backflow preventors, thermostatic mixing valves, a manifold system, presume balanced valves, and other similar plumbing safety measures to make sure that surges of scalding water do not come out of the pipes when someone flushes a toilet and the like. In short, excessively hot water is grounds for an injured tenant to sue the landlord whose corner-cutting put them at risk. For the case to economically feasible, however, the burns need to be fairly severe.
A landlord’s responsibility to protect people does extend to protecting them from crime, when and if that crime becomes foreseeable.
In other words, if a random shooter suddenly terrorizes a complex in a usually quiet neighborhood, the landlord may be considered just as much a victim as anyone else. On the other hand, if a landlord knows (or should know) that shootings are common around a certain property, that landlord is responsible for taking reasonable measures to protect tenants and guests.
That might sound like an impossible task, but statistically, landlords have a great deal of power over whether criminal activities will thrive on and around their properties. A landlord choosing to provide a haven for violent crime puts tenants in danger of becoming casualties of that crime.
Even in low-crime areas, landlords should provide adequate lighting in common areas and make sure all tenants have working deadbolts on their doors. In fact, deadbolts are almost always recognized as one of the essentials guaranteed under the implied warranty of habitability.
Additional measures landlords should take in moderate- and high-crime areas include:
- Providing gates and keeping them closed
- Installing security cameras in common areas
- Evicting tenants who threaten or commit violence against others
- Ensuring that all doors and windows have proper locking mechanisms
- Making tenants aware of what the landlord knows about crime
If violent tenants are allowed to stay and continue to commit violence, that’s another situation where it could be possible to hold a landlord liable for tenant negligence.
In high-crime areas, it’s also not unreasonable for a landlord to employ security guards at night, or even round-the-clock. These sorts of measures are industry standard for larger scale rental properties – although such a measure rarely makes economic sense for either party in the renting of one single family home.
After an assault, sexual assault, or murder has happened in a high crime area, it’s easy to put all the focus on catching and convicting the perpetrator, but these are also perfectly valid reasons to sue your landlord for negligence. If you do decide to file a lawsuit against the landlord, it can actually be a more effective way to get compensation, protect others, and make the world a little less hospitable to violence.
The Stoddard Firm Helps Injured Tenants Get Compensation
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one due to a negligent landlord, and you’re looking for an excellent tenant rights attorney, The Stoddard Firm is here to help. We’re passionate about taking the profit out of landlord negligence and helping survivors get back on their feet, and we have expertise in all relevant fields of law, including premises liability, personal injury, wrongful death, and landlord tenant law.
Not only will we help you prove landlord negligence, we’ll also make sure the full extent of your injury is understood and respected, so you get the full compensation you need to make the best recovery possible.
To get started with a free consultation on your case and how The Stoddard Firm can help, give us a call at 678-RESULT or reach out through our online chat function.