As a property manager, you are responsible for the safety of your residents. If you don’t take the proper care and someone on your property gets injured, you could very well be held liable.  

Here are a few of the top landlord liability issues to watch out for and how to avoid them:  

Injury due to Dangerous Conditions 

A landlord is held liable for any injury that occurs on their property when it can be proven that the landlord was somehow negligent in maintaining the property and that the negligence in doing so was the cause of the injury.   

In most cases, direct failure does not need to be explicitly proved. It is enough for the resident to show that the landlord knew of a dangerous condition, or should have known it, and either failed to repair it, or to give adequate warning of the danger. 

Vehicle Liability  

Liability insurance should cover all vehicles on the property, including those of the staff. Although a liability allegation involving a traffic accident may have nothing to do with the residents of the landlord, such an incident nevertheless exposes the company of the landlord to a liability lawsuit, which can lead to significant injury compensation in some instances. 

Anti-Discrimination Liability  

This one is simple, but just as important. Landlords are legally required to uphold race, religion, and more anti-discrimination laws. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from selecting residents based on these criteria.  

If a resident believes that you have discriminated against them for an unjust reason, they can bring their case to federal or state court. If discrimination is proven, it can result in emotional distress damages and attorney fees. 

Pet Liability 

Dogs, cats, and other pets may also be a liability for landlords.  Therefore, landlords sometimes forbid their residents to have pets. If the landlord “knew” that the animal was potentially dangerous, and the animal harms someone, he can be held liable. 

Bad Behavior Residents 

A landlord also assumes some responsibility for the behavior of his residents as well as a possible liability. If he is aware of unlawful, obnoxious, or other behavior that is an ongoing nuisance, the landlord is required to take steps to protect other residents who are affected by the resident’s behavior. This includes the eviction of the resident, when necessary. 

How do I minimize liability issues?  

Keep Up with Safety Codes 

Staying up to date with safety codes is key to preventing injury to your residents. Safety codes will vary from property to property because different cities and states have their regulations. These are some of the most common safety codes you should be aware of: 

Lead Paint 

Maryland and federal lead paint laws are designed to reduce lead poisoning in children while maintaining affordable rental housing. These laws state that Maryland’s Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act regulates only rental properties built before 1978.  

If you manage older properties, you should check and see if you have any that fit in this criterion. If you do, you must take the following steps: 

  • Register your affected properties and update your registration annually.  
  • Obtain lead inspection certificates for your affected properties.  
  • Ensure that 50% of your pre-1950 residential rental properties/units have full risk reduction lead inspection certificates. 
  • Ensure that 100% of your residential properties/units before 1950 have passing certificates of inspection for applicable risk reduction. 
  • Provide your residents who live in affected properties with educational materials about lead paint. 

Mold Remediation 

The state of Maryland has no laws or regulations requiring landlords to report high concentrations of mold to potential renters. Federal law requires disclosures of lead paint, but it does not impose a similar duty on landlords when it comes to mold. 

Despite this, landlords should take mold seriously and be mindful that residents who feel they have been affected by the existence of mold can try to recover damages from their landlord in court to compensate for their loss. If you own or manage a rental property, a mold problem could present you with costly cleanup and repair bills as well as litigation by residents alleging that the mold made them ill.  

Because there is so much is at stake, it’s essential to try to prevent a mold problem from growing in the first place at your rental property, as well as to take prompt, effective action to remove the excess mold you discover. 

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors 

If your properties were constructed after 1994, you need to: 

  • Replace any hardwired smoke detector older than ten years with a new hardwired smoke detector. 
  • These detectors need to be installed in each bedroom, on every floor, and in the basement. 
  • All smoke detectors need to be interconnected so that they all go off simultaneously.  

If your properties were built before 1994, you need to: 

  • Replace any hard-wired smoke detector older than ten years with a new hardwired smoke detector. 
  • These detectors need to be installed in each bedroom, on every floor, and in the basement. 
  • All smoke detectors currently installed must be interconnected when replacing a smoke detector. 

Keep Common Areas Safe 

It is the owner’s responsibility to keep common areas such as laundry rooms, hallways, and garages clear of all hazards. 

This would include replacing burnt-out light bulbs in stairwells and having proper handrails. 

Snow Removal & Other Weather-Related Laws 

Snow and ice removal from the sidewalks are typically the resident’s responsibility in a single-unit home rental situation unless the lease states otherwise. However, the landlord is usually the one who must take care of the sidewalks in the case of multi-unit properties, such as apartment complexes or office buildings. 

For more specific snow removal rules specific to Maryland, DC, and Virginia, click here.

Making Legal Disclosures  

As a landlord, if you do not disclose specific health or safety issues to residents beforehand, then you may be liable for any damages that may result to the resident. That includes revealing the presence of lead-based paint on the property as a potential risk to the resident’s health. 

Conclusion 

Landlords are responsible for providing their residents with a habitable and secure living environment. They should be prepared to tackle repairs promptly – especially those that affect habitability or safety. 

These simple rules can help prevent you from potential conflict and keep your residents happy. 

Sources: 

Maryland Rules Regarding Mold in Rental Properties

Maryland Laws for Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Snow Removal Laws in Maryland, Virginia and DC

Disclaimer: ClickNotices is not a law firm, and its employees are not acting as your attorney. ClickNotices is a provider of delinquency management and court administration services. ClickNotices acts as an agent in basic Landlord-Tenant (LT) disputes in jurisdictions where such representation is allowed. In jurisdictions where attorneys are required for LT cases, ClickNotices provides only administrative and software services, leaving all legal representation to partner law firms.