Today, there are many exceptions to the common law rule that the landlord had no duty to make the premises safe. Generally speaking, a landlord is liable for latent defects or concealed dangerous conditions; he is liable as to property that is subject to public use; and he is also liable for damages from repairs he voluntarily undertook, those he contracted to repair, and those he is statutorily obligated to repair. He is also liable for failing to use reasonable care as to common areas.
- Concealed Dangerous Condition If at the time the unit is rented, if the landlord knows of a dangerous condition that the tenant could not discover upon reasonable inspection, and the landlord fails to disclose that condition, he is going to be held liable for injury resulting from that condition. If the landlord discloses the condition and the tenant rents the property anyway, the tenant assumes the risk of injuries to himself and his guests.
- Public Use If at the time of the lease, the landlord knows or should know of a dangerous condition and has reason to believe that the public may be admitted to the property before repairing the condition, the landlord will be liable for damages if he does not repair the condition even if the tenant promises to repair it.
- Voluntary Repairs If after the tenant takes possession, the landlord undertakes a repair he is not obligated to undertake, he will be liable for failing to exercise reasonable care as to those who were not aware of the failure and who were injured.
- Landlord Covenants to Repair If the landlord promises or contracts to repair he will in most courts be held responsible for injuries arising from his failure or negligent repair.
- Common Areas Common areas are those that remain under the landlord’s control, but are used by the tenants, such as halls, walks and elevators. The landlord has a duty to reasonably care for these areas and will be liable for injury resulting from dangerous condition that could have reasonably been discovered and made safe.
- Furnished Residence If the landlord rents a furnished residence for a short term (three months or less), he is likely to be held liable for injuries arising from defects in the premises.
It is easiest to fit a landlord’s tort liability under a blanket of reasonable care. Generally, the courts require that the landlord use reasonable care as to his residential tenants. If the landlord has notice of a defect and a reasonable opportunity to repair it, then he is going to be held liable for injuries caused by his failure to do what he reasonably should have done.
Michigan Legislature – Tenants and Landlords a Practical Guide.
This article was originally published on July 31, 2009. It has been revised and republished.