Lawsuits against landlords or apartment buildings for injuries on the rental property are common personal injury claims. They can be filed against:
- Corporate landlords,
- Building owners, or
- Property management companies.
These personal injury lawsuits seek compensation for the injuries suffered by you. They can be filed if you have been hurt by a dangerous condition on the property, such as:
- Broken stairs,
- Weak floors,
- Hidden sinkholes in the yard,
- Collapsing decks, or
- Weak railings.
Lawsuits like these aim to hold the landlord accountable through premises liability law. They can help lots of types of victims, including:
- Workers, and even
In this article, our California personal injury lawyers explain:
- 1. What are lawsuits against landlords or apartment buildings?
- 2. Who can file a lawsuit against a landlord?
- 3. Who can be held liable for an injury on the landlord’s property?
- 4. What kind of compensation can I recover in a lawsuit against a landlord?
- 5. When can I file the lawsuit?
1. What are lawsuits against landlords or apartment buildings?
A lawsuit against a landlord or an apartment building is a common personal injury claim. These lawsuits contend that the landlord should be held financially responsible for the tenant’s injuries. They argue that the landlord is liable because an unsafe condition caused the accident on the rental property.
Landlord lawsuits typically claim that you got hurt because the landlord was negligent in not ensuring safe conditions. The landlord’s negligence manifested itself in their lack of care for the property. The lack of care led to the unsafe condition that put you at risk, through no fault of your own.
To succeed in a lawsuit against a landlord for injuries sustained on their property, you will need to show that:
- The person or party you are suing owns the property,
- They were negligent in the use or the maintenance of the property, and
- That negligence was a substantial factor in causing the injuries you received.1
1.1. Common accidents that can lead to injuries on a landlord’s property
A lot of different accidents can happen on a landlord’s property, which has an implied warranty of habitability. Some of the most common accidents that can cause serious injuries include:
- Sliding and falling on a surface that has a dangerous tendency to get slippery,
- Tripping on a hidden obstacle that could easily have been fixed,
- Falling through weak or rotted floorboards,
- Injuries from broken stairs,
- Falling into a hidden sinkhole,
- Exposure to toxic substances,
- Falling after a banister or railing breaks under your weight,
- Getting hurt when a porch or deck collapses, and
- Injuries from an unprotected elevator shaft.
1.2. Common injuries suffered in accidents on a landlord’s property
These accidents can cause some severe injuries and disabilities, including:
- Broken bones, especially to hands, wrists, and arms as you try to break your fall,
- Spinal injuries,
- Head injuries, and
- Strains, sprains, and muscle tears.
Elderly people are especially prone to getting hurt. They are more likely to lose their balance and get tripped up by a hidden danger. They are also less able to break their fall. Unfortunately, their age also makes them more likely to get seriously hurt.
Note that if you fail to see a doctor, your landlord can argue that you were never injured or that you worsened the injury by not getting medical treatment earlier. Your treating physicians can provide crucial testimony regarding the extent and severity of your injuries.
1.3. What steps do property owners have to take to keep people safe?
Landlords and apartment buildings have a legal duty to keep you as their tenants and visitors safe. They breach that legal duty if they know about a dangerous condition on the property, or should know about it, and fail to:
- Repair the hazard,
- Protect people from harm from it, or
- Give people adequate warning about the dangers of the hazard.2
According to apartment accident lawyer Neil Shouse, landlords of rental properties have to take steps to inspect their property and discover unsafe conditions. Landlords have to do this for the entire property:
- Before letting you move in,
- Before renewing a lease,3
- After you move out, and
- At reasonably frequent periods.4
Once you have moved into the property, the landlord still has to inspect common areas under the landlord’s control if they should have known about the danger. If the danger is in your control, the landlord has to take action once they have actual knowledge of the condition.5
The landlord cannot delegate this legal duty to someone else, like an independent contractor.6 Even if an independent contractor is responsible for inspecting the property or repairing hazards, the landlord can be held liable for injuries caused by them.
2. Who can file a lawsuit against a landlord?
Injured tenants are not the only ones who can sue their landlords or apartment buildings for their injuries. Victims can include:
- People visiting tenants,
- Business visitors, and
Not all states draw a distinction between visitors, business visitors, and trespassers. Some, including California,7 focus on whether the landlord could foresee the visitor’s presence.8
Tenants are the people who are paying the landlord to use the property. They signed a lease. They are often residential tenants, especially in apartment rental unit buildings. However, they can also be business tenants as well.
Tenants receive contractual rights when they sign the rental agreement. These rights require the landlord to take action to repair dangerous conditions, such as broken steps or handrails. They also have legal rights under state law.
Most lawsuits against landlords are filed by the tenant. Because the tenant spends so much time there, they are the most likely to suffer an injury on the property.
2.2. Invitees or business visitors
An invitee is someone who is on the property for a business purpose. Because their presence is very foreseeable, landlords have to take extra precautions and reasonable steps to keep them safe. They have to reasonably inspect the property for potential hazards and property damage. This is true even if the landlord is leasing the property to someone else to run their own business on the premises.9
2.3. Licensees or invited guests
A licensee is someone who was invited on the property, but is not there for a business purpose. That invitation can be express or implied. While landlords do not have to inspect the property for possible dangers, they do still have to fix problems or provide warnings.
Expressly invited licensees include:
- Dinner guests,
- Family members, and
Licensees who have an implied invitation include:
- Meter readers,
- Garbage collectors, and
- Mail carriers.
Trespassers are people who are on the property without a right or an invitation. Therefore, landlords have a much lower duty of care towards trespassers than to licensees and invitees. Landlords can still be liable for their injuries, though, if they are caused willfully or wantonly.
3. Who can be held liable for an injury on the landlord’s property?
- Occupy, or
The property can be liable for an injury on it.
In theory, this means that you as a tenant can be held liable for an injury suffered by a visitor or third party. Because tenants are rarely able to pay for the costs of the injury, though, attention is focused on the landlord.
4. What kind of compensation can I recover in a lawsuit against a landlord?
If you were hurt by a landlord’s failure of preventing dangerous conditions on their property, you can recover compensatory damages. These are meant to cover the losses you have sustained from your injuries. They include:
- Medical bills / medical expenses,
- Lost wages,
- Lost earning capacity,
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress, psychological trauma, and loss of quality of life,
- Scarring and disfigurement,
- Loss of consortium for your family, and/or
- Wrongful death
Damages such as medical bills and lost wages are classified as economic damages because it is easy to calculate the losses.
In contrast, damages such as pain and suffering and scarring and disfigurement are classified as non-economic damages because it is difficult to calculate the losses. There is no way to put a price tag on mental health.
In some rare personal injury cases, you can also recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are meant to punish people for especially wrongful conduct. Examples include intentional conduct such as:
- sexual assault
- invasion of privacy
In order to prove your losses, common evidence includes:
- pay stubs
- medical records, including prescription records
- transportation bills
- surveillance video of the accident or inadequate conditions (such as a wet floor, torn carpet, or broken handrail)
- eyewitness testimony (make sure to get the contact information of anyone who saw what happened)
- your own testimony of what happened (be sure to take photos and write down everything before you forget it)
- testimony by maintenance people who can attest to your landlord cutting corners
- any other documentary evidence of the accident
Note that if you were partially at fault for the accident that cause your injuries, you can still recover damages. Your compensatory award would just be reduced in proportion to your degree of fault. Learn more about California comparative fault laws.
5. When can I file the lawsuit?
You have to file a lawsuit against a landlord or apartment building before the statute of limitations expires. In California, this gives you 2 years to file the lawsuit.10 If you do not file your lawsuit within this timeframe, it can be quickly dismissed.
Suffered a personal injury on rental property? First seek medical attention. Then contact our California personal injury attorneys to discuss your claim. We may be able to negotiate a favorable settlement without a jury trial.
- California Civil Jury Instructions (“CACI”) 1000.
- CACI 1003.
- At least for commercial leases (Mora v. Baker Commodities, Inc., 210 Cal.App.3d 771 (Cal. App. 1989)).
- CACI 1006.
- CACI 1006.
- Brown v. George Pepperdine Foundation, 143 P.2d 929 (Cal. 1943) (holding a landlord liable for a child’s injuries when she fell down an unprotected elevator shaft, even though a different company ran the elevators).
- Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Center, 863 P.2d 207 (Cal. 1993).
- See CACI 1001.
- Portillo v. Aiassa, 27 Cal.App.4th 1128 (Cal. App. 1994).
- California Code of Civil Procedure §335.1.