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Landlord Liability: Be Proactive with Maintenance Issues to Avoid Possible Lawsuits

Feb 11 2017

As a rental property owner, you must have a solid understanding of your liability in regards to maintenance. You can be named as liable for negligence if you failed to keep the environment safe, if you knew of a hazard and didn’t take reasonable actions to prevent injury, or if that hazard caused damage due to your inaction. As such, approach your maintenance liability decisions as though you might present your decisions before a judge if a lawsuit developed.

Another factor to consider is that statutes may overlap or conflict with civil or criminal laws, and so it is always better to be safe than sorry. Even if the problem is caused by your tenant and they are responsible for the “damages”, you should be proactive and take care of the repair, then bill the tenant for their responsibility. This could cost you some money, but in the long run, the risk is not worth a possible lawsuit.

With the above in mind, suppose a resident contacts you that his deadbolt lock has failed. Are you liable? Are you responsible? What would you do in this instance?

A. Change the lock.

B. Tell the resident to call a locksmith immediately.

C. Wait until business hours the next business day to assess whether the lock really needs to be changed.

D. Change the lock and bill the resident.

This one is tricky because you are not responsible but you do have liability. Although most leases require the resident to be responsible for lock issues, if the resident is assaulted or has a break in after the lock was reported to you, your office might be held liable in a civil lawsuit for failure to provide a safe environment.  As such, the correct answer is D. For properties Real Property Management offices manage, we change the lock immediately,  and then charge the services to the resident, if appropriate. Our experience in dealing with issues like this door lock situation helps us keep our clients’ properties safe and in good condition, and give our clients peace of mind.

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