Can I file a lawsuit against my landlord for not making repairs?

by Alex
(Wichita, Kansas, United States)

This question has to do with my little brother, who is developmentally disabled, and his inability to access my rental property. I think a little background information would help...

I moved out of my childhood home for the first time last year with a childhood friend. I'd never rented and didn't know what I was doing. We requested a walk-through to note any problems right after moving in, but the landlord refused (actually, he told me to document and email him all the problems, but we didn't have time - that's a big job).

Upon moving in, there were many problems:

-We didn't have a working hot water heater

-There was an old electric heater with live wires in our shower

-Multiple sockets were fire hazards (some had burn marks on them, some just didn't work, some destroyed electronics)

-The dryer was improperly ventilated

-We didn't have working smoke alarms

-The previous tenant bred dogs in the rental and the floors turned our feet black (we also found whole feces behind/under things)

-The backyard overgrew for 3 months in the spring (and weeds were over 6ft tall), and the front yard was never mowed

-Paint was chipping off the back of the house

-Two months into renting, the provided washing machine started leaking and mold grew in our basement laundry/bathroom (I actually got sick from fungus and was put on steroids, but the landlord has a clause in the lease saying he's not responsible for the washer...and now I'm worried that he can test for mold and sue me! Is this possible?)

We signed a lease for a year, but being dumb and thinking we were powerless, we just cleaned and cleaned and fixed and fixed. We wanted to live somewhere safe and decent. Finally, I discovered I could file a claim with a city inspector.

The inspector came out and found ~15 violations in April 2014 (some are mentioned above). After months of my requests to repair, and then after the city inspector wrote my landlord tickets, only about half of the repairs were made. It's been 7 months since the inspector visited.

So I'm finally at a place in my life where I can move out (graduating college this month). However, I'm considering filing a small-claims lawsuit against my landlord (unfortunately he's also a lawyer).

We were smart enough to take pictures of EVERYTHING. I even have a text of him saying the live electricity in the shower had been checked out by an inspector and that we were safe to shower. The inspector we called told us we were absolutely not safe showering.

On to the real question:

I have a 22-year-old brother who has Down Syndrome. I pay very high rent for my city because this rental is in a nice family neighborhood. I wanted my brother to be able to come over and not worry about safety, crime, traffic, etc. He has enough to worry about.

One really big thing I always worried about was the dilapidated/slanted front steps and front sidewalk. My little brother has notoriously poor balance.

In 2012, he tripped on a 2" sidewalk crack outside the YMCA and shattered his elbow. He had 3 long screws drilled into his arm (big medical procedures are very dangerous because he has a congenital heart defect, but he's OK). My family sued for medical and won, and the sidewalk was repaired. (We're not lawsuit-happy, I swear.)

However, my brother has only been able to visit twice because I'm terrified of him tripping, and my parents are terrified of this duplex in general. The inspector told the landlord to fix the stairs in April.

Is there a case here at all? I feel like I didn't get what I paid for over 15 months. If there is a case, does it have a place for my brother and the stairs?

The moment he reaches the front steps he's facing a very dangerous situation. However, I have not disclosed my brother's condition to my landlord. The landlord has ignored so many problems for months despite multiple requests to repair. I figured if he wasn't going to respond to the city inspector, he wouldn't respond to me if I filed a lawsuit.

I just want to say thank you in advance for any response I receive.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Can I file a lawsuit against my landlord for not making repairs?":

Alex (Wichita, KS, USA):

From the facts you present, you do not have the basis of a civil injury claim against the landlord. If there was a civil action, it would have to be brought by your brother or a legally appointed representative.

While the landlord may have been cited for a variety of violations, at this point your brother hasn't been injured on the rental property. For the landlord to be liable and responsible for the payment of compensation, your brother would have to be injured on the property owned or managed by your landlord.

At this point, if you are concerned about your brother's possible injuries, you have a legal duty to "mitigate" the danger. This means, since you are aware of the possibility your brother may be injured if he comes onto the property, you can't just wait for him to come on to the property and be injured. That would be legally and morally inappropriate.

Instead, if you are convinced the property is dangerous, you must either move to another location, or keep your brother away. You should of course continue to follow-up with the property inspector. And again, if by chance your brother is injured, he would likely have a strong case against the landlord.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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