As a renter, you may assume that since you do not own the property on which you reside, you do not carry legal responsibility. This, however, is not necessarily the case. The property owner certainly carries the bulk of the responsibility, but depending on the terms of your lease, premises liability may actually apply to you, the tenant.
Read your Lease
Many renters make the mistake of assuming all leases are standard. In fact, there are very few regulations regarding what can and cannot be addressed in a formal lease agreement, and even fewer requirements for how details are handled. For instance, most leases stipulate who is responsible for the specifics of property maintenance, but the law doesn’t stipulate whether that maintenance falls on the landlord or tenant.
Furthermore, when you reread your lease you may find that the responsibility is actually divided between you and your landlord.
Since premises liability claims are generally based on negligence, it’s important to be aware of exactly where your responsibility lies. In many cases, you may consider acquiring renters insurance so that you are covered in the event of an accident.
Premises Liability Defined
The law requires the owner of a piece of property to keep any visitors safe from harm, but a legal document such as a lease can transfer those requirements to the tenant. This means that if a slip and fall or other accident occurs on property you are currently renting, you could find yourself in legal trouble.
Accident victims have the right to pursue damages from a responsible party. The caveat here is that to collect those damages the victim must be able to prove negligence. They must show that the responsible party knew about the hazard and chose to neither fix the issue nor warn the victim.
Again, understanding the terms of your lease is paramount. While you should always warn visitors to your home of any possible hazards, if a personal injury claim results from an accident and you have not obtained renters insurance, you could find yourself the defendant in a legal battle.
Other Aspects of Premises Liability
If a slip and fall or other accident occurred on property you are currently renting, and if your lease stipulates that you were responsible for maintaining the area where the accident occurred, the only other pertinent detail is the status of the accident victim.
If, for instance, someone is injured during the course of performing work on the property, this will generally be handled by the worker’s employer as a workers’ compensation claim. In cases of trespassing, although state laws vary, in most areas neither you nor your landlord can be held responsible.
When the accident victim was visiting the property at your invitation, or the invitation of your landlord, you can be held legally liable. Your best defense is to be aware of the terms of your lease and carry a renters insurance policy. Otherwise, you may find the accident victim’s reward for a personal injury claim coming out of your own pocket.