Usually, yes. Nevada landlords are responsible to maintain safe common areas. Therefore, landlords may be liable to people who sustain injuries in the common areas because of the landlord's violation of Nevada negligence laws.
Landlord's duty to maintain common areas
Apartment buildings consist not only of separate units but also "common areas" shared by all the tenants. Depending on the location, these common areas may include:
- a lobby
- hallways that lead to the individual units
- a mail room
- a workout room
- a laundry room
- a parking lot or garage
- a swimming pool
- a picnic area
Whereas tenants bear the brunt of responsibility to keep their individual units safe for guests, landlords bear the brunt of responsibility to keep the common areas safe for tenants and guests. Accordingly, tenants are typically not as invested in common areas as they are in their own units: They are less likely to clean after themselves or alert the landlord to problems in the common areas.
Landlords' duties in common areas usually include:
- ensuring everything is built and maintained to code,
- making regular inspections,
- cordoning off dangerous conditions,
- notifying tenants of dangerous conditions, and
- fixing dangerous conditions
If a landlord breaches any of these duties and someone gets injured in a common area, the landlord could be civilly liable.
Tenants or guests who get injured in an apartment complex's common area may be able to sue the landlord for negligence under the Nevada theory of premises liability. Most cases settle out of court, but at trial, the injury victim ("plaintiff") would need to prove the following elements in order to win:
- The defendant is the owner of the common area or is in control of the common area where the accident took place;
- The plaintiff was in the common area at the defendant's consent;
- A dangerous condition exists in the common area;
- Defendant caused, knew of, or should have known of the alleged dangerous condition; and
- The dangerous condition caused the plaintiff to suffer injury and/or other damages.
Plaintiffs who prevail in a premises liability lawsuits should be entitled to compensatory damages to cover their:
- medical bills,
- lost wages,
- loss of future earnings, and/or
- pain and suffering
Landlords are advised to carry insurance that pays for damages from common area injuries.
Victim negligence and contributory negligence
Just because an accident occurs in a common area does not automatically make the landlord liable. If the common area had no defects or hazards, then the victim may be to blame. For instance, people who walk around drunk near stairs or run recklessly through a lobby are likely to slip and fall at no fault of the landlord.
Sometimes both the landlord and the victim are at fault for an accident in a common area. For instance, there may be a slippery surface that the landlord neglected to clear, but the victim may not be paying attention because he/she is looking at a smartphone. If the court determines that the landlord is at least 50% or more at fault, then the victim should still be able to recover some money damages under Nevada's comparative negligence laws.
- Rolain v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42373 (2013); Hammerstein v. Jean Dev. West, 111 Nev. 1471, 907 P.2d 975 (1995).
- See, e.g., Deiss v. Southern Pac. Co., 53 P.2d 332, 56 Nev. 169 (1936).
- NRS 41.141.