Slumlord Tenant Injury Claims in California
Slumlord tenant injury claims in California happen more frequently than they should! “Slumlords” (owners or managers of rental properties that are doing a poor job of maintaining their premises in a safe and habitable manner) often violate state and county laws and ordinances and get away with it. It is estimated that approximately 35 to 40 percent of the population in the Golden State rent the property where they reside. While most landlords and property management companies do a decent job at upkeep, there are some true slumlords in CA and there are some property owners who are simply negligent in one or more aspects of they way that they maintain their premises. When this results in a tenant or guest of a tenant being injured, what legal rights and remedies do they have?Common Types of Property Defects That Cause Personal Injury to Renters
Electrical Problems: The dangers posed by electricity are probably the single most serious peril that can be caused to persons renting residential property like apartments. Wall switches and light fixtures can be loose and lack proper covering or insulation and exposed electrical wires can be found in poorly maintained dwellings. This can lead to electrocution which can cause serious, permanent injury or death.
Lighting Issues: Lack of proper light fixtures or failure to change bulbs when they go out can lead to a person falling down stairs, tripping over objects, or other mechanisms of injury. Poor illumination can also contribute to criminal activity like assaults, rape and robbery.
Dangerous Appliances: Stoves, garbage disposals, washing machines, and heating and cooling devices can all pose a serious risk of personal injury or death if they are not properly wired, attached to gas lines or otherwise defective. Many rental properties come with such appliances supplied by the landlord and when the manager is neglectful in the state of repair of these devices, they may be liable for resulting bodily harm.
Plumbing Issues: Defective plumbing can do more than just cause property damage. A water heater set at too high a temperature or with a non-functioning gauge or monitor, can cause a child or adult to be scalded and burned.
Windows and Doors: A broken pane of glass can obviously cause serious lacerations. Likewise, windows that do no open properly due to bent frames or other problems can become a death trap in the event of a fire. Windows and doors that do not properly secure or lock can allow break-ins that can result in serious assault and battery or other criminal activity.
Flooring: Floors that are uneven or buckled can cause a tripping hazard. Floors that have been overly waxed or otherwise allowed to be overly slippery can cause a slip and fall. Nails or other protruding objects can also cause puncture wounds and other bodily harm.
Toxic Substances: There are many toxins and poisons that can be present in and around an apartment, townhouse or single family rental property. Pesticides, herbicides, cleaning products, lead paint and many other noxious, deadly or harmful chemicals can be left in areas where young children and even adults are able to ingest or inhale such materials and be injured or killed.
Common Areas: Many apartment buildings and condo structures have common areas. These can hold swimming pools or hot tubs, gymnasiums, barbecue grills or fireplaces and many other features that add to the enjoyment of living. However, when proper protocol on fencing and barriers are not in place or when the property owner or manager fails to inspect or maintain such areas, this can lead to catastrophic results. For example, failure to properly fence a pool or spa could result in a child drowning, improper maintenance of fire fixtures can cause burn injuries, and inadequate or negligent installation or repair of safety features like garage door or front gates can lead to gang activity or other crimes. Likewise, landscaping defects such as holes or sprinklers that cause tripping hazards can result in trauma.What Does California law say About the Legal Rights of Tenants or Guests Injured in or Around Rental Properties?
The laws of the State of California provide that every property owner (either directly or through their managing agents) must use “reasonable care” to keep the property in a “reasonably safe condition.” Rowland v. Christian, 69 Cal.App.2d 108. Therefore, a claim for personal injury or wrongful death may lie when the injury party or the family of the deceased is able to show that there was a dangerous condition on the property (defined as any lay of the land that creates a “unreasonable risk of harm” to persons that may come onto or dwell on the property) so long as the elements are shown as follows:
- The owner or manager knew or should have known (through the use of reasonable care) about the problem; and
- The controller of the premises failed to “repair”, “protect against harm” or “give an adequate warning” about the condition. Cal. Civil Jury Instruction 1003.
More specifically, the case law and statutes in California place the duty upon a “landlord“, as follows:
“A landlord must conduct reasonable periodic inspections of rental property whenever the landlord has the legal right of possession. Before giving possession of leased property to a tenant [or on renewal of a lease] [or after retaking possession from a tenant], a landlord must conduct a reasonable inspection of the property for unsafe conditions and must take reasonable precautions to prevent injury due to the conditions that were or reasonably should have been discovered in the process. The inspection must include common areas under the landlord’s control.”Why is it so Important to Seek Prompt Legal Consultation Following an Injury or Death on Rental Property
“After a tenant has taken possession, a landlord must take reasonable precautions to prevent injury due to any unsafe condition in an area of the premises under the landlord’s control if the landlord knows or reasonably should have known about it.” Cal. Civil Jury Instruction 1006.
Obviously, medical care and treatment should be the first priority for any tenant or guest who is injured within an apartment or other rental property or in the common areas of such an estate. Prompt reporting of the incident should also be made to the owner, manager or lessor as well so that there is no argument later about when and where the event occurred. From that point forward, however, any actions taken including making statements to other people, providing written or recorded statements to property and casualty insurance adjusters or other representatives of the owner or management company or altering, in any way, the area where the incident occurred or the appliance or other device which caused the injury can have devastating consequences on the viability and value of any personal injury or wrongful death claim. Experienced attorneys will be able to conduct proper inspection and investigation into these issues. Lawyers familiar with premises liability claims will also have the experience and expertise to communicate properly with any persons charged with determining legal liability and damages for the claim. This makes it imperative to consult legal counsel as soon as possible following any injury or death occurring in or around a rental property.