Negligent landlord? Here’s how to seek fair compensation when you or your child have been injured in a rented home, apartment, or public housing complex.
More than 43 million American households choose to rent rather than own a home.
While many renters choose apartments, single-family homes make up nearly 40 percent of rental housing, including detached homes, townhomes, duplexes, and mobile homes. ¹
Most landlords are responsive to their tenants’ needs, but many are unreliable, unreachable, and uninterested in their tenants’ well-being.
If you’re a tenant who’s been injured because of landlord negligence, you have a right to expect compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Whether you rent from a private individual or live in government-owned housing, you need to know how to build a strong personal injury claim against a negligent landlord.
Common Dangers and Tenant Injuries
No matter if you’re living in an apartment building or renting a single-family home, premises liability laws require your landlord to maintain a safe environment for you and your guests.
Poor maintenance and disregard for state rental laws are often why dangerous conditions develop:
Lead poisoning: Children exposed to lead, often from peeling paint in older properties, may suffer severe physical and developmental injuries. Landlords in almost every state are required to prevent lead exposure to tenants.
Smoke alarms: Every state has smoke alarm requirements for rental properties. Missing or broken smoke alarms can result in needless deaths from fire and smoke.
Playgrounds: Old and neglected playgrounds may also expose children to lead. Poorly maintained playground equipment puts kids at risk of fractures, cuts, infections, and more. Landlords are responsible for keeping common-area playgrounds and sports areas safe.
Sidewalks and parking lots: Uneven, cracked pavement and potholes in parking lots and walkways create fall risks for tenants and visitors of all ages.
Decks and balconies: Severe injuries can be caused by deck collapses, or upper-level balcony rails giving way.
Stairs: Multi-story apartment buildings have stairs. Single-family homes and townhouses can have outdoor and indoor stairs. Broken stair railings, loose banisters, and deteriorated carpeting or tread cause accidents. Landlords are responsible for dangerous stairs.
Snow and ice: Landlords are responsible for snow removal and treating for ice in common areas of apartment buildings. The tenant may be responsible for shoveling and treating walkways and driveways for single-family houses. Slip and falls on ice are a common cause of injuries.
Flooring: Rental properties should be safe and clean. Torn carpeting, broken tiles, or loose floorboards inside the rental unit or in common areas are trip hazards that can lead to serious injuries.
Security: Inadequate lighting in parking lots and common areas of condos and apartment buildings can raise the risk of assault and robbery, especially in high-crime areas. Broken locks on doors or windows deprive tenants of a safe and private residence in any rental property.
Swimming Pools: Apartment complex landlords are responsible for safe management and maintenance of common-area swimming pools.
Renter’s Insurance Protection
Unlike homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance doesn’t cover the cost of your dwelling, so the premiums are usually very affordable.
Renter’s insurance will protect you against the loss of your furniture, clothes, computer, and other personal items ruined in a fire or other covered event.
When the tenant is at fault, renter’s insurance can also help pay for injuries to guests. The tenant and tenant’s household members cannot claim injury coverage under a renter’s policy.
The landlord is responsible for your injuries when the circumstances leading to the injury are the landlord’s fault.
For example, when you slip and fall on the icy sidewalk leading to the apartment building, the landlord may be responsible for your broken arm if the walk wasn’t treated in a reasonable amount of time after a winter storm.
Accidents that happen inside a house or apartment are more difficult to blame on the landlord. The rental house or apartment should have been clean and in good repair when the tenant moved in.
Once moved in, it’s up to the tenant to let the landlord know of any safety hazards or broken fixtures. The landlord is not allowed to invade the renter’s privacy with frequent inspections.
Sometimes, the tenant is partially to blame for an accident.
Understanding Landlord Liability
Rental properties are a business arrangement, and just like any other business owner, landlords are subject to premises liability laws, meaning they have a legal obligation to keep rental properties safe and habitable for tenants.
Although landlords normally don’t have a duty to enter individual units to look for dangers, they must respond to tenants’ notifications about dangerous conditions.
Landlords should resolve dangerous conditions promptly, especially when those conditions pose an imminent threat of injury to the tenant or visitors.
Learn about the rules landlords in your area must follow: Landlord-Tenant State Laws and Regulations.
When a landlord violates their duty of care, they are negligent. When that negligence results in injury to a tenant, the tenant has a right to compensation for their damages.
Damages can include the tenants’ medical bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
To succeed in a personal injury claim against the landlord, a tenant must prove the landlord was negligent. The tenant must show that the landlord knew or should have known of a dangerous condition and failed to repair that condition.
The Landlord Needs Time to Make Repairs
When it comes to apartment complex common areas, the law gives a landlord a reasonable amount of time to discover a dangerous condition and repair it. Although landlords must make regular inspections of the common areas, sometimes dangerous conditions appear suddenly.
It’s unfair to hold a landlord liable when they’ve done everything reasonably possible to discover and repair a dangerous condition on the property. The tenant may have a difficult time proving negligence against a conscientious landlord.
For example, if a shelf in the community fitness room suddenly broke and several weights fell off, injuring a tenant, the landlord might not be liable.
Presuming the shelf was holding the correct amount of weight, and the landlord made regular inspections of the fitness room, the landlord would not be expected to know of the danger or have a reasonable amount of time to replace the shelf.
On the other hand, if a tenant told the landlord the shelf had a crack and the landlord didn’t repair it for weeks, the landlord would be liable for not repairing the shelf. In this case, the landlord knew or should have known about the danger, and failed to remedy it.
Automatic Landlord Liability
Sometimes a landlord is automatically liable for a tenant’s injuries. The legal term per se is Latin, meaning “in itself.”
With negligence per se, an injured tenant doesn’t have to prove the landlord knew or should have known about a dangerous condition. The mere existence of the dangerous condition is enough to prove the landlord’s responsibility.
For example, if a landlord rented an apartment with lead paint to tenants with young children, the landlord would be negligent per se if a child suffered from lead poisoning.
Giving Notification of a Hazard
In most cases, it’s up to you to prove negligence. You’ll have to show that the landlord knew the dangerous condition existed and failed to address the condition promptly. This usually boils down to notification.
Check your lease: Your rental agreement should spell out when and how to notify the landlord of problems with your house or apartment. For example, you may be required to communicate with a management company, rather than the property owner.
Written notification: Go ahead and make phone calls or send emails, but always follow up in writing. Take good notes every time you call, including the date and time, whom you spoke with, and what you discussed. Save printed copies of your emails, and any responses.
Although telephone calls and emails can get the ball rolling, a certified letter is the best way to prove the landlord knew about the problem. Your letter should detail the dangerous condition. Explain your concerns about the potential harm it may cause to you and others.
Send your letter certified mail, return receipt requested. Also, send a copy via regular mail. Keep copies of your letter and save the receipt postcard when it comes back.
Unless the condition is so dangerous as to require immediate attention, give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to make repairs. Anywhere from a week to 30 days is usually enough.
State and County Landlord-Tenant Affairs
When you’ve notified your landlord of a problem, and the problem isn’t resolved in a reasonable amount of time, you can ask for help from local agencies.
Many states and counties have an Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs (OLTA) to help both sides understand your rights as a tenant and the landlord’s obligations when it comes to rent payments, security deposits, property inspections, and maintaining the property in a safe and healthy condition.
Your state’s Attorney General’s Office may offer easy-to-understand information for tenants, and advice for handling safety issues.
Most large counties, especially in urban areas, have a robust OLTA with counselors who can help you file a complaint, and may have the authority to penalize a landlord who fails to follow the rules.
Help for Public Housing Issues
Residents in HUD and government-assisted housing can call the Multifamily Housing Complaint Line to get help with property management complaints, issues of health and safety, and to report property management fraud.
If you’re not a tenant, learn how to file a claim for injuries in a Government Housing Project.
If you can’t find safe and affordable housing, contact your local HUD agency for public housing assistance or information on housing choice vouchers.
Your Landlord’s Insurance Company
If you were hurt in your house, apartment or the common area of your housing complex, you have to deal with your landlord’s insurance company. The problem is if your landlord hasn’t cooperated so far, there’s a good chance they’re not going to start now.
If that’s the case, and you want the name of the insurance company, you’ll have to get creative.
There are a couple of ways to get the name of your landlord’s insurance company on your own:
- Ask the landlord, preferably in writing.
- Go to the county property records department and find a copy of the deed to your rental property. If there’s a mortgage on the property, the bank requires the owner to carry property insurance. If you’re lucky, the name of the insurance company is in the deed of trust.
Another way is to hire an attorney. Most attorneys can deal with landlord problems. The mere threat of a tenant suing a landlord for injury is often enough for the landlord to cooperate.
If not, your attorney may have to file a lawsuit against the landlord. Your attorney will then have the right to subpoena the name and address of the insurance company.
Proving Your Personal Injury Claim
Whether you make a claim with the property owner’s insurance company or file a lawsuit, you’ll need good evidence to prove you were injured due to your landlord’s negligence.
Evidence can help you show:
- The landlord knew or should have known of a dangerous condition.
- The landlord had time to repair the danger but failed to do it.
- The dangerous condition was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.
- You didn’t know the condition existed or couldn’t avoid it.
Photographs and videos: You can bolster your injury claim with photographic and video evidence. Taking multiple pictures of the dangerous condition is a graphic way to illustrate the danger as it first existed and as it worsens.
Witness statements: Witnesses are invaluable in proving a dangerous condition exists. Family and friends make good witnesses, but neighbors and independent witnesses are the best. Witnesses who don’t have a personal or financial interest in the outcome of your claim are more credible to the insurance company.
Show your witnesses the dangerous condition. Tell them about your landlord problems. Ask them to write down what they saw in detail and their opinion of the danger it poses. Ask them to sign and date their statements.
Medical care: If you’re injured, you must seek medical care. Although accumulating evidence is vital, without medical proof linking your injury to the dangerous condition, your claim will fail.
If your injury is serious enough to require emergency medical care, call 911. If your injury doesn’t require emergency medical care, you still must seek treatment at a local clinic or from your private physician. Be sure to tell every medical provider who treats you when, where, and how you were injured.
Time is of the essence. The sooner you seek treatment, the stronger the link between your injury and your landlord’s negligence. The more time that passes, the harder it will be to build a believable claim.
Without medical treatment, you have no damages. You’ll need copies of your medical bills and records to prove the extent and cost of your injury.
Attorneys Will Fight for Your Compensation
If you’ve identified the insurance company and have completely recovered from soft tissue injuries like bumps and bruises, sprains, or minor cuts and scrapes, you can probably negotiate a fair settlement directly with the insurance company.
Calculate fair compensation by totaling your medical bills, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and lost wages. Then, add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.
Send a written demand with copies of your medical records and bills, wage statement, photographs, and other evidence you’ve collected.
Look like a pro with our sample Apartment Injury Demand Letter.
If you’ve filed a personal injury claim against your landlord and they won’t reveal their insurance company, or your claim is complicated, you’ll need the help of an experienced injury attorney.
Complicated, expensive claims can include:
- Wrongful death claims
- Injured child claims
- Injuries that required hospitalization
- Permanent injuries or scarring
Insurance companies are notorious for offering lower settlements to claimants who are on their own. The insurance company cares more about their profit margin than you or your child. There’s just too much to lose by facing the company alone.
If you or your loved one have been injured due to a landlord’s negligence, you deserve fair compensation for those injuries. It costs nothing to find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you.
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Tenant Injury Claim Questions & Answers
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