When a Tenant Tries to Sue a Landlord for Negligence; What to Know, and How to Prevent

When a Tenant Tries to Sue a Landlord for Negligence; What to Know, and How to Prevent

Suing a landlord for negligence is a long and difficult-to-prove legal process. Negligence on the part of landlords and property managers is basically defined as a failure to conduct prompt inspections, repairs, or maintenance in a property and/or building. If a tenant can show that a landlord or property manager willfully failed to carry out his rental agreement with his tenant,” then he or she is guilty of negligence. However, being sued for negligence is dependent on many factors, and the information below can shed a little light on this type of landlord lawsuit.

What are the Elements of Negligence?

  • Duty: Every landlord and property manager has a duty to keep a residence habitable and livable for their tenants. The “duty” part of a negligence lawsuit simply is the legal requirement and standard of conduct in protecting tenants from unreasonable risk of harm.
  • Breach of duty: This second element of a negligence lawsuit is when the person being sued violates their duty. With regard to landlord negligence, a breach of duty would relate to any contract or rent violation. For example, if a tenant complains about a leaky pipe under their sink, and the landlord/property manager has a duty under the rental lease or contract to fix any and all leaks, the leak must be fixed. If the landlord fails to do this, it is a breach of duty on the part of the landlord or property manager.
  • Causation: Simply put, “causation” is when a breach of duty on the landlord/property manager’s part causes damage to either the tenant or their home/property. With regard to the above example, if the landlord being sued for negligence fails to repair the leaky pipe, and the water from the leaky pipe then damages the floors or other area of the tenant’s property, there is causation in the negligence lawsuit.
  • Damages: This part of the lawsuit is pretty self-explanatory, but can sometimes be the hardest to prove. The “damages” element involves whatever damages the complainant seeks against the landlord. There are several types of damages: compensatory, general, special, nominal, and punitive.

What Else Do Landlords Need to Know About Negligence Lawsuits?

Because landlord-tenant laws and negligence laws that are specific to landlords vary by state and sometimes even by city, many landlords and property managers don’t know much about the process or how they can protect themselves from such a damaging and expensive lawsuit. Here are a few things to know and keep in mind regarding landlord negligence lawsuits:

  • Property damage isn’t the only type of damage that landlords can get sued for. If a landlord or property manager does not report suspicious activity to their tenants or the police, or they fail to repair outside lighting or security features, he or she can potentially be sued for negligence — especially if a burglary occurs.
  • Landlords and property managers always need to make sure they have insurance for their property. Not only does a landlord need homeowners insurance, but in some cases they’ll need landlords insurance as well. Check with state and city laws on whether two separate policies are needed.
  • One of the best ways to prevent a negligence lawsuit is to repair all tenant property complaints and/or dangerous conditions as soon as possible, and to make it a priority to conduct annual inspections. Landlords have a responsibility and duty to their tenants to ensure the property is livable, safe, and free from any dangers.