When someone gets injured on a rental property, liability depends heavily on who had “control” over the premises. Generally, both the occupier (i.e. the renter) and the owner (i.e. the landlord) can be held liable, because both the tenant and the landlord are assumed responsible for upkeep and maintenance of the property.

If, for example, you rent an apartment, you (the renter) have sole use of the apartment, and thus control over the apartment itself. If someone were to get hurt inside your apartment, you would likely be held at least partially liable for the injury. The owner may also be held liable if the injury was the result of negligent upkeep to the property, such as faulty wiring or an unsecured, rotted balcony, particularly if the tenant had informed the owner of the problem.

The issue gets complicated, however, when multiple people use the property, or when one person uses it, and another is responsible for maintaining it. In these cases, the owner may be held liable instead of the renter, if it can be shown that the owner had “exclusive control” over the premises.

In a case decided in 1971, Blankenship v. Wagner, the court held that the outside back steps of a property were in the “exclusive control” of the owner, despite how many people might use them. Since then, courts have typically viewed the outside and common areas – such as the stairways and parking lots – of an apartment building as under the control of the owner.
Just this past December, for example, a tenant won $350,000 in a New York lawsuit after her landlord neglected to clear debris from the stairway. The tenant suffered a serious fall on her way to work that resulted in permanent damage to her ankle. The stairway was considered under the control of the landlord, and the evidence was sufficient to show that the landlord was negligent in the stairway’s upkeep. Eventually, the landlord settled.

This case brings up another crucial point that must be proven when deciding premises liability cases: negligence. Even if a person or company has “exclusive control” over a property, that person or company is only responsible for the injury if it can be proven that the person or company was negligent in the upkeep or maintenance of the property and that the negligent act was the direct cause of the injury.

A skilled personal injury attorney can evaluate the facts surrounding your case, and advise you of its merits. If you’ve been injured and have questions about premise liability, contact one of our experienced personal injury attorneys now for a free case evaluation.