Negligence: The Landlord’s Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care

November 6, 2011 | | Articles | Comments Off on Negligence: The Landlord’s Duty to Exercise Reasonable Care

Landlords and property managers in California need to be aware of their obligations to maintain their rental properties so as to prevent unsafe conditions.

“A person who owns, leases, occupies, controls property is negligent if he or she fails to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. A person who owns, leases, occupies, controls property must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others.” This is the Basic Duty of Care as defined in Section 1001 of the California Civil Jury Instructions.

In California, the requirement to “use reasonable care to discover” unsafe conditions further elevates the landlord’s responsibility.  This implies that you should inspect your properties and make repairs and alterations as needed to insure that unsafe conditions do not exist.  Failure to fulfill the duty is negligence.

Several factors are considered by the courts when determining whether or not reasonable care was used in a particular case, most of which are subject to reasonable interpretation.

(a) The location of the property – is the property in a densely populated urban area or out in the country where few people go?

(b) The likelihood that someone would come on to the property in the same manner as the plaintiff did – did someone get hurt climbing over a fence or walking up the sidewalk?

(c) The likelihood of harm – was the condition so unsafe as to present a higher likelihood of harm?

(d) The probable seriousness of such harm – if someone were to be injured by this condition, how likely would it be that the injury would be serious?

(e) Whether the defendant knew or should have known of the condition that created the risk of harm – would a reasonable person be able to observe the condition?  Was the landlord told of the condition but did nothing about it?

(f) The difficulty of protecting against the risk of such harm – could reasonable steps have been taken to prevent the condition or warn about it?

(g) The extent of the defendant’s control over the condition that created the risk of harm – is it reasonable that the landlord could have made a repair or alteration so as to prevent the unsafe condition?

Fortunately, most of this is common sense.  There is no burden on the landlord to make inspections of inaccessible areas unless there is reason to believe an unsafe condition exists, but prudence dictates that you see your properties regularly and make repairs promptly.

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