Can Landlords be Liable for Injuries to Their Tenants?

The general rule of premises liability for landowners is that landowners owe visitors to their property a duty to keep them safe from unreasonable risks of injury. This rule does not only apply to landowners, however; it also applies to occupiers (namely tenants) of real property. So what happens if someone is injured in an apartment building, where there are two potentially responsible parties–the landlord and the tenant? § 44-7-14 of the Georgia Code spells out when the landlord is responsible and when the tenant is responsible:

Having fully parted with possession and the right of possession, the landlord is not responsible to third persons for damages resulting from the negligence or illegal use of the premises by the tenant; provided, however, the landlord is responsible for damages arising from defective construction or for damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair.

In light of O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14, the question of liability turns on the issues of where in the building the accident occurred and whether the tenant was aware of the danger. In most cases, landlords are liable only for injuries that occur in the common areas of their buildings or that are the result of hidden defects in occupied dwelling units.

Common Areas

Landlords are generally solely responsible for injuries that occur in the common areas of their buildings. All landlords have a duty to:

  • Properly maintain common areas
  • Warn of hidden dangers of which they are aware, and
  • Make safe furnished dwellings on short-term leases

If a landlord breaches any of these duties and the breach causes injury to either a tenant or a visitor, the landlord will be liable for any injuries that result from the breach. More specifically, for landlords liability attach, the plaintiff must prove the following elements:

  1. The landlord had a duty to fix the dangerous condition and did not do so
  2. Fixing the dangerous condition would not have been unreasonably expensive or difficult
  3. The cause of the injury to the tenant or visitor was the landlord’s failure to fix the dangerous condition
  4. The injury that resulted was foreseeable
  5. The landlord’s negligence directly caused the injury.

If a plaintiff is able to prove all of the elements above, he or she will be able to recover for medical bills, lost earnings, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and any other damages that they suffered as a result of the accident.

Hidden Defects

While landlords are almost entirely responsible for injuries that occur in common areas of their buildings, they are almost entirely not responsible for injuries that occur within the occupied dwelling units of their buildings. This is mostly a function of the degree of control each party has over the space in question. Landlords directly control all of the common areas in their buildings, so it follows that they will be liable for accidents in them. On the other hand, tenants have exclusive control over their own units, so it also follows that tenants will be responsible for injuries to themselves and others that occur in their private dwelling units. However, there is one major exception to this rule: Landlords are liable for injuries that occur in occupied dwelling units if the injury was the result of a hidden defect that the landlord knew or should have known about, and of which the tenant did not know about. For example, the landlord, not the tenant, would be responsible if a lighting fixture in an occupied dwelling unit fell from the ceiling and struck someone in the head if it could be shown that the landlord improperly installed or failed to safely maintain the lighting fixture.

Contact an Atlanta Premises Liability Attorney Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation

If you have been injured in the common area of an apartment building or by a maintenance problem in your dwelling unit, you may be eligible to recover. Contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 404.255.6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including the following locations: Lithonia, Lawrenceville, and Norcross.

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