But For A Light Bulb – Landlord Premises Liability, Tenants And Guests

In Florida, the landlord of an apartment complex must maintain his/her property to a certain degree to ensure they are up to building code standards and free of hazards posed to the safety and well-being of tenants and their guests. Not doing so leaves the landlord open to premises negligence lawsuits, even when the hazard appears open and obvious.

That was the case, for example, in Mann v. Northgate Investors LLC, which was reviewed recently by the Ohio Supreme Court. The primary question here was the degree to which the landlord owed a duty of care to the guest of a tenant, as opposed to the degree to which the landlord was expected to shield a tenant from harm. As it turned out, had the landlord in this case simply changed a light bulb, he could have avoided the entire lawsuit.

According to court records, this lawsuit stemmed from a slip-and-fall incident down an unlit stairwell at an apartment complex at night. Back in the summer of 2007, the 16-year-old victim was visiting a friend, who lived in the second-story of an apartment complex. The teen departed around 11 p.m. and encountered the unlit stairwell.

She made it to the bottom, and then miscalculated how many steps she had left. As a result, she tripped and fell face forward into a glass pane, shattering it and falling to the ground covered in glass. She suffered numerous injuries as a result.
In the lawsuit she filed against the property owner, the victim alleged the owner was negligent in failing to maintain adequate lighting necessary for safe egress and ingress to the property at night. This posed a danger to both residents and guests.
The property owner countered that there was no evidence of breach of duty to the plaintiff, maintaining that as an “invitee,” she was only owed a duty of ordinary care, as opposed to a greater degree of care that would be owed to a tenant. The landlord also argued that the hazard of the unlit stairway was so open and obvious that there was no duty to warn because invitees should be reasonably expected to identify and avoid the danger.

The fall victim argued that the state’s Landlord-Tenant Act requires landlords to make all necessary repairs and maintenance in order to keep the property fit and habitable – that would include maintenance of electrical systems and lighting fixtures.
Initially, the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant property owner, agreeing with the position that the danger was open and obvious and the landlord had a only limited duty to protect tenant guests from home.
However, that finding was later reversed by the appellate court, which determined that the open-and-obvious doctrine doesn’t apply when the landlord is negligent and further that tenant guests are entitled to protection. That decision was affirmed by the Ohio Supreme Court.

Landlords who spend a little extra time ensuring that the property is well-lit and free of fall hazards can substantially reduce their risk of litigation.

Here in the Sunshine State, Florida Statute 83.51 spells out a landlord’s obligation to maintain the premises. These requirements hold that in addition to adherence to state health and building codes, landlords at all times during tenancy must maintain: Roofs, doors, windows, floors, porches, steps, exterior walls, foundations and all other structural components in good repair and capable of resisting normal forces and loads. The plumbing has to be maintained in “reasonable” working condition, and landlords have to repair screen damages once a year. They must also make reasonable provisions for locks and keys, clean and safe conditions in common areas, functioning heat in the winter and functioning smoke detectors.

If there is a lapse of time between when the hazard arises and the time in which you are able to repair it, post a sign, clearly warning of the potential danger.

If you have been injured in a slip-and-fall accident in Miami, contact the Law Offices of Jose M. Francisco.


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