Pennsylvania Injury Law – Is a Landlord Liable for an Accident or Injury?
Under Pennsylvania personal injury law, landlords (private individuals or businesses) can be held liable for accidents or injuries at rentals, i.e., commercial buildings, apartments or homes. However, PA law makes key distinctions when it comes to liability:
- Is the landlord “in possession” or “out of possession?”
- Did the accident occur in a common or shared area?
- Did the landlord have prior notice of the defect or otherwise create the problem?
- Is the landlord a commercial or residential landlord?
In Possession vs. Out of Possession
Pennsylvania law is usually pretty favorable to landlords who aren’t in possession of the premises. In other words, if a landlord doesn’t retain control or possession over the premises or part of the premises, the landlord usually isn’t liable. That’s because it simply isn’t reasonable to hold a person or business liable when they aren’t actually present on or otherwise in control of the premises. However, there are certain, limited situations when a landlord out of possession can be held liable, such as a defect that the landlord knew about when the property was transferred to the tenant or if the landlord repairs something but does so negligently.
Retained Possession of Common or Shared Areas
The principle of non-liability for out of possession landlords tends to apply to rental of private residences or homes, but not to landlords of apartment complexes or situations where a landlord rents out a portion of their own home. These latter types of landlords usually retain possession of parts of the premises. When accidents or injuries occur on these parts, the landlords can be held liable. This applies to common or shared areas, like parking areas, walkways, entryways, etc.
For instance, the landlord of a large apartment complex may be liable for an accident that happens in the common area (entryway or hallway) of an apartment building, or a homeowner who rents out a room in their home could be held liable when the tenant falls down on ice on the walkway leading to the home.
Prior Notice of a Defective Condition
Notice is the bedrock of liability in an injury lawsuit against a landlord in Pennsylvania. To hold a landlord liable, the injured party needs evidence that the landlord had PRIOR notice of the dangerous condition, such as:
- property defects like broken sidewalk or concrete,
- unreasonable ice/snow accumulations on walkways,
- building/construction defects, or
- foreseeable criminal activities of others (assaults, shootings, etc.).
Did the landlord actually create the condition? For example, a landlord who fixed a broken step could be liable if the landlord repaired it negligently and as a result, a tenant broke her foot when the stair broke again.
Did the landlord have actual notice of the defective condition? Using the same example, let’s say the tenant complained to the landlord (this is actual notice) about a broken step. Weeks and months go by, but the landlord does nothing. If a tenant or a guest is injured, the landlord could be liable.
If the landlord didn’t have actual notice, is it fair to say that under the circumstances, the landlord should have known about the defect? Again, let’s use the same example, except that the landlord’s office is located just outside the stairway with the broken step. Each day, the landlord and its employees walk past the broken step, which is clearly noticeable. Here, the circumstances show that the landlord should have known about the broken step.
Commercial vs. Residential Landlords
In Pennsylvania, both commercial landlords and residential landlords can be held liable. Principles of negligence apply to both. However, commercial landlords are treated a little differently than residential landlords.
Commercial landlords of office buildings, retail stores, buildings and malls, etc., have a duty to make their premises reasonably safe for the general public. This means conducting regular property inspections to identify potential hazards. That’s because commercial properties are usually open to the general public whereas residential properties are not. With respect to landlords of residential properties, this duty doesn’t apply in quite the same way. Generally, residential landlords don’t have the duty to inspect the interior of a residence (apartment, home, etc.). For instance, the landlord of a private single family home wouldn’t have the duty to inspect the interior or exterior of the rented home (unless otherwise agreed on in the rental lease). However, residential landlords, such as those of large apartment complexes or condos, do have the duty to inspect common or shared areas like parking lots, hallways, etc.
Defendants in a Landlord Liability Case – Other Parties
Other parties are often sued in a landlord liability case. Property owners, business owners and property management or maintenance companies can be liable. This is in addition to the landlord. Oftentimes, large properties, like shopping malls or large apartment complexes involve complex contracts between multiple parties including the landlord, property owner and a maintenance company. One or all of the parties can be held liable for an accident or injury.
Financial Compensation Claims – Insurance Proceeds
In most landlord liability cases involving personal injuries, the injured individual can receive compensation by making a claim under the landlord’s insurance policy, the one that covers the premises. Most commercial landlords and residential landlords of large properties get insurance policies to protect them in the event of an accident or injury on the premises. These policies provide coverage to injured tenants, guests and others lawfully on the premises.
Philadelphia Law Firm – Personal Injury Lawsuits Against Landlords
Our law firm handles personal injury, accident lawsuits against landlords in Pennsylvania. Contact us for a FREE consultation. (215) 985-0777.