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Landlords Need to Proactively Inspect Their Property

Dennis C. Hogan
March 9, 2022

As I left a friend’s apartment this winter she grabbed my arm to warn me against the danger of moving so quickly toward the porch stairs. This surprised me because I had noticed no danger.

My friend lives in a common style of apartment in New England. The building may have originally been a single-family home but now it is divided into two or more apartments. The building is owned by an individual who relies on the rental income to pay the mortgage or provide retirement income. Therefore, the owner does all the maintenance and repairs that the owner can manage. This often leads to missing some things that a maintenance company would take care of on a routine basis.

The stairs are clean, straight, and look firm. Despite the snow on the ground, the stairs are mostly free of snow apparently because of the overhang of the porch roof. Additionally, there is a gutter which should take away the water that could fall on the stairs and freeze, thus becoming hazardous ice.

What I failed to notice, at first glance, is instructive to the responsibilities of a landlord to maintaining a safe property.

When a suit against a landlord for injury due to the liability of a landlord is written, the plaintiff attorney uses the phrases, “defendant knew or should have known about the danger” and “defendant failed to eliminate the danger or warn the plaintiff about the danger.”

Had I slipped on those steps and received an injury, the suit would have stated that there was a hidden danger because of the inaction of the landlord that allowed the hazard to be created from the normal and expected weather of the area.

A closer look at the porch and gutter reveals that the landlord is not attending to the upkeep of the property. The decline of the gutters runs to the right of the stairs. You can see that there is vegetation poking skyward from the gutter. That can not happen without time and water. Most likely the roots of those plants are growing bigger and thicker so that they create a dam holding the water back to cause an overflow from the sides of the gutter. That overflowing water is falling onto the stairs. In the winter the inevitable happens: the water freezes and creates a slippery ice hazard. Since ice is generally clear, it is a hidden hazard.

Only my friend’s diligence kept me from using the stairs as if they were clear and dry. My feet would have slipped out from under me and my bottom, back, and head would have been sent to the stairs or the ground at a speed that would have caused me pain and possibly injury.

Landlords can not depend on their tenants to warn everyone who comes to the property. Therefore, landlords should take notice of their property to look for possible hazards. The first and easiest form of prevention of hazards is to keep the property maintained in the way that it was safely designed. Gutters service a safety function of controlling where waterfalls. Other safety features on a house are strips on a roof to prevent the water from falling at the door, down spots that take the water away from the walks and driveways, steps that make it easy to go up or down, and lights that illuminate where guests and tenants walk. This is not an exhaustive list and every property is different. Landlords need to continually inspect their property in order to reduce the chance of an injury to a tenant or short term visitor to the property.