WHEN IS A LANDLORD RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURIES CAUSED BY A DEFECT IN A LEASED PROPERTY?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Borders v. Rosenberry, 216 Kan. 486, 532 P.2d 1366 (1975).
This case addresses the following issue:
When is a landlord responsible for injuries caused by a defect in a leased property?
This case dealt with what responsibilities a landlord has concerning defects on a leased property. Id. at 487. Subject to limited expectations, the individual leasing a property is normal responsible for ensuring the property is safe for guests; this case explores the contours of those limited exceptions. Id. Considering the facts of this case, the court could not find that these circumstances fell within any of the exceptions, and thus, could not find liability for the landlord. Id. at 494.
In this case, Plaintiff attended a dinner party at a friend’s house. Id. at 487. The friend leased the house from Defendant. Id. at 486. Just prior to the friend taking possession of the home, Defendant had a new roof put on the house. Id. Following the project, the gutter on the front of the house was never replaced. Id. This resulted in water running off from the roof and onto the front steps of the house. Id. In the winter, this would result in ice accumulating on the front steps. Id. at 487. On the day Plaintiff was to come over for dinner, ice had accumulated on the step. Id. The friend chipped all the ice off the step prior to the party, and Plaintiff was able to enter the home without issue. Id. However, during the long dinner, freezing precipitation accumulated on the step. Id. As Plaintiff was leaving, he slipped on the ice and suffered great injuries. Id.
The general rule of Kansas law is that the leasing party is obligated for the upkeep of property, and thus, is responsible for injuries caused by defects. Id. at 488. However, Kansas law recognizes six exceptions to this general rule. Id. First, a landlord that hides a dangerous condition from a tenant is responsible for injuries caused by the hidden defect. Id. at 488-89. Second, the landlord is responsible for defects that poses a danger to those outside of the property. Id. at 489. An example of this is an awning that extends over a public sidewalk and falls on a public passerby who is using the sidewalk. Id. Third, a landlord is responsible when a portion of the property is open to the public, such as private sidewalks or very temporary leases (like the site of a swap meet). Id. at 490. Four, shared areas of a property are the responsibility of a landlord. Id. at 491. The best example of this exception are hallways in an apartment building. Id. Fifth, when the landlord agrees in the lease (or a separate contract) to perform repairs to the property. Id. at 491-92. Sixth and final, negligent repairs undertaken by the landlord create liability for the landlord. Id. at 493.
Looking at all these exceptions, the court could not find one that applies. Id. The landlord had been upfront about the missing gutters and the tenant was well aware of the potential danger the lack of gutters had. Id. What was specifically relevant in this case was the freedom of the tenant to make improvements upon the property. Id. Thus, the tenant was free to install the gutters if he so decided, and all parties agreed that the landlord was not responsible for such improvements or repairs. Id. Thus, the court found no responsibility on the part of Defendant for Plaintiff’s injuries. Id. at 494.