Apartment Accidents and Injury Claims: When the Landlord Should Pay

Your landlord is required to provide a safe living space. Here’s how to get the compensation you deserve for apartment building injuries.

The United States hasn’t had this many people renting their living space for more than 50 years. ¹

Nearly 19 million American households rent apartments, with more than half living in older apartment buildings.²

Vigilant landlords conduct regular inspections of their properties to identify and eliminate dangerous conditions. It’s in their best interests to keep their rental properties hazard-free.

Apartment building insurance claims and lawsuits are filed every day by injured tenants and guests. Good landlords want to provide safe housing, and avoid costly litigation.

Unfortunately, there are landlords whose indifference and neglect result in injuries to tenants and visitors. If you were hurt in your apartment, town home, duplex, or the common area surrounding the property, you have a right to expect compensation for your injuries.

Common Apartment Dangers and Injuries

Every state has premises liability laws that require landlords to maintain a safe environment for tenants and visitors. Without regular maintenance, unsafe conditions quickly develop:

Cracked pavement and potholes: Cracked pavement and potholes in parking lots and walkways are a disaster waiting to happen. Tenants who stumble or trip are likely to fall on concrete or asphalt. The danger is higher in the evening when it’s harder to see breaks or holes in the pavement.

Unstable balconies or decks: When an apartment or condo deck collapses, or the balcony rails give way, multiple people can suffer catastrophic injuries.

Broken staircases: Most apartment complexes have buildings with multiple floors. When handrails or banisters break loose from their fittings, it’s easy to lose your balance and fall. Outside steps made slippery from weather conditions and inside stairs made unsafe by worn carpeting can also cause injury.

Faulty shower doors: Faulty shower doors, especially those with sharp edges, can bruise or cut your legs and feet. Trying to keep a broken shower door closed while showering can also make you lose balance and fall.

Snow and ice: When landlords fail to remove snow and ice, or treat walkways, there’s much greater chance someone will fall, potentially resulting in head injuries, a broken hip or wrist, and severe muscle and joint sprains.

Damaged flooring: Exposed nails, torn carpeting, and loose floorboards can cause puncture wounds or gashes to the hands, feet or knees of children and adults. Torn carpeting or loose floorboards are trip hazards that can cause severe injuries, especially to elderly tenants.

Inadequate lighting: Inadequate lighting in stairwells, parking lots, and along common walkways can contribute to tenants slipping and falling on steps, cracked pavement or in potholes. Poor lighting is not only a safety hazard, but it’s also a security hazard, particularly in high-crime areas.

Electrical shocks: Improperly grounded electrical sockets or worn wire insulation are hazards that can result in electrical burns or death.

Neglected playgrounds: Neglected children’s’ playgrounds, basketball, and tennis courts in apartment common areas are the responsibility of the landlord. Unsafe playground equipment puts children and young adults at risk of broken bones and teeth, tetanus, hand and finger injuries, and more.

Apartment pool: Drownings or injuries can happen in poorly supervised or poorly maintained swimming pools.

Falling objects: Loose ceiling tiles, rusted overhead light fixtures, crumbling walls, and other parts of neglected buildings often fall on unsuspecting tenants and visitors, causing head, face, and eye injuries.

Missing or broken locks: Malfunctioning locks on apartment doors and windows, or building entrance doors and windows deprive tenants of a safe and private home. Occupants are at high risk for assault and robbery in unsecured rental units.

Missing or broken smoke alarms: Smoke alarms save lives. Responsible landlords should provide working smoke alarms in each rental unit and throughout the common areas of the building.

Find out what your landlord should be doing with FEMA’s guide to State-By-State Smoke Alarm Requirements.

Renter’s Insurance Basics

Renter’s insurance will help cover the cost of your clothing, furniture, and other personal items if they are lost or damaged in a fire or other covered event.

While renter’s insurance won’t cover injuries to the tenant or members of the tenant’s household, it will cover injuries to guests in the apartment, if the tenant is to blame for what happened.

The landlord is responsible for injuries to tenants caused by poorly maintained common areas of the apartment complex. The landlord is also responsible for injuries to a guest or visitor if the circumstances leading to the injury are the landlord’s fault.

Injuries to renters and their guests that happen inside the tenant’s apartment are more difficult to blame on the landlord. Sometimes, the tenant is at least partially to blame.

Example: Renter at Fault for Guest’s Injury

Steve had lived in his apartment for a few months when a pipe began to leak under the bathroom sink. He kept meaning to report it to the landlord, but never got around to it.

In the meantime, he stuck a plastic bowl under the dripping pipe, in the cabinet below the sink.

One evening, Steve had a few friends over for pizza.

When Sharon, one of his guests, walked into the bathroom, she slipped on a puddle of water and fell, cracking her face against the marble sink counter. She suffered a concussion and had to have several stitches to close the gash over her cheek. The wound was likely to result in permanent scarring.

The bowl under the leaking pipe had overflowed onto the bathroom floor. Since the landlord wasn’t aware of the leaking pipe, the landlord was not responsible for Sharon’s injuries.

Steve should have known the leaking pipe could eventually lead to water on the floor. Steve was held responsible for Sharon’s injuries and pain and suffering.

Landlord and Tenant Obligations

Renters and their landlords both have obligations to ensure the apartment complex is a safe and healthy place to live. Generally, the landlord should keep an eye on the common areas, and the tenant should watch out for problems inside their apartment.

Apartment Complex Common Areas

Your landlord has an implied obligation to make regular inspections of the apartment complex common area. The common areas may include parking lots, sidewalks, lobbies and entrances, hallways, stairs, community rooms, and swimming pools.

Negligence falls on the landlord who fails to make regular property inspections to guard against dangerous conditions.

You don’t have to formally notify the landlord of dangerous conditions outside of your apartment. It’s not your responsibility to make inspections of the property and send written notices to the landlord every time you find a dangerous condition in a common area.

Example: Icy sidewalk

It’s the middle of winter. A sprinkler head in your complex broke weeks ago. Each day, water leaks all over the sidewalk, making it dangerously icy. While coming home one evening, you slipped and fell, breaking your arm.

The landlord was negligent for not regularly inspecting the sprinkler heads and walkways.

Dangerous Conditions Inside a Rental Unit  

Although the landlord has a duty to make regular inspections of the property, it doesn’t include entering your apartment on a regular basis to inspect for dangerous conditions. That’s impractical and an invasion of your privacy.

Renters have an obligation to notify the landlord of problems or hazards inside their unit. Your lease should specify how and where to report problems in your apartment. You may need to contact a management company handling the property rather than the landlord.

Once you’ve reported the problem, the landlord or management company should promptly resolve the situation.

Example: Broken Shower Door

The shower door in Kathy’s apartment broke a while ago. It won’t stay closed because the latch is broken. On several occasions, the shower door has smacked into her leg, scraping it.

The landlord knew about the broken shower door because Kathy called, sent several emails, and wrote letters asking the landlord to make the necessary repairs. Her communications were ignored.

One day the shower door swung open abruptly, cutting into Kathy’s leg causing a gaping wound. Kathy had to have stitches, crutches, antibiotics, and a tetanus shot. She also missed several days from work.

Kathy would not have been hurt if not for the broken shower door. The landlord is responsible for her damages.

Proving the Landlord is Liable

The law requires apartment landlords to meet a very strict legal duty to keep their property habitable and free of dangerous conditions. When a landlord fails to carry out regular inspections and make timely repairs of the property, they’re negligent.

When the landlord’s negligence results in injuries, the landlord has violated their legal duty of care. The violation makes the landlord legally responsible, or liable, for damages.

Damages include the injured person’s medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and emotional distress.

Unless you’re renting a unit owned by a government housing authority, your landlord should have a liability insurance policy covering your apartment complex.

Injury claims will usually be handled by the landlord’s insurance company. However, don’t expect them to write you a check just because you tell them you’re hurt.

Learn how to make a claim if you’ve been injured in a government housing project.

Before the insurance company pays, it’s up to you to prove the landlord was to blame for the circumstances that caused your injury.

To prove your landlord was negligent, you’ll have to show:

  1. The landlord was aware or should have been aware of the dangerous condition.
  2. A sensible landlord would know the dangerous condition could result in injuries to someone.
  3. The landlord failed to take reasonable steps to correct the dangerous condition or to keep people away from the danger.
  4. The landlord’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.

Gathering Evidence to Support Your Claim

The stronger your evidence, the better your chances of winning an insurance claim. Proving your landlord knew about the dangerous condition inside your apartment, townhome or duplex requires evidence.

In general, the more notice you’ve given your landlord ahead of an injury, the stronger your negligence claim will be.

Copies of notices to the landlord: Make copies of emails, texts, and letters you sent to the landlord about the dangerous condition.

Keep a written diary of each time you called to ask for help, and what the landlord or property manager said in response. Make sure you write down the name of the person you spoke with and the time and date. It might also help to get your phone records listing the calls.

Photographs and videos: Photographs are compelling evidence of dangerous conditions. Be sure to turn on the date and time function. Photograph and video the dangerous condition from several angles and in relation to other objects in your apartment. Get close-ups and panoramic shots. You can’t have too many pictures.

For example, if you fell on an exposed floorboard, take a ruler and place it next to the raised floorboard to show how many inches the floorboard is above the rest of the floor. If insulated wiring shocked you, photograph the area of worn insulation first and then take a wider shot to show the rest of the wire.

Witness statements: Eyewitness testimony, especially from non-family members, can help prove landlord negligence. Witness statements can document a dangerous condition before and after an injury occurs. With the permission of the witness, you can video their statement using your smartphone.

For example, while at the apartment complex playground, your child fell when the monkey bars broke in half. At the time, there were several other parents with their kids on the same playground. After photographing the broken monkey bars, ask each of the parents if they will write down what they saw.

Any paper will do, just get it written down. Just make sure the witnesses sign and date their statements. If any of the parents say they previously reported the dangerous monkey bars to the landlord, make sure that information is in the witness statement.

Proof of damages: Seek medical care as soon as possible after an injury. You must have medical records and bills to file an injury claim or lawsuit.

If your injury is serious enough, call 911. If the paramedics think you should go to the emergency room, don’t refuse. If your injuries don’t require emergency care, you must still seek medical care from a local clinic or your primary care provider as soon as possible.

The longer the delay between your injury and medical treatment, the harder it will be to prove your claim.

Attorneys Can Boost Compensation

If you’ve recovered from soft tissue injuries like minor cuts and bruises, sprains, or minor burns, you can probably negotiate your own claim with the insurance company.

Figure out your compensation by totaling your medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages. Then, add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.

Send a written demand with your proof of damages.

We made it easy with our sample Apartment Injury Demand Letter.

If your injuries are more serious, like broken bones, head trauma, or any permanent injury, you need the services of an experienced personal injury attorney.

Serious injuries are high-dollar claims. Insurance companies almost always offer lower settlements to claimants who aren’t represented by an attorney. They know you probably don’t have the energy or legal clout to fight for more money on your own.

Wrongful death claims and claims for injuries to children require a skilled attorney to get fair compensation. Don’t expect the insurance company to look out for you or your family.

If you or your child have been badly injured because of a landlord’s negligence, you deserve fair compensation. It costs nothing to find out what a good personal injury attorney can do for you.

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