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Landlord’s Duty to Use Reasonable Care to Maintain Property in Safe Condition – A California Primer

If you are going to rent a living space, you need to know your obligations to maintain your property to prevent unsafe conditions.  In California, landlords have a duty to exercise reasonable care in the management of their property to ensure persons are protected from an unreasonable risk of harm.  Failure to do so may lead to violations of the law and impose civil liability upon the landlord.  Thus, an understanding of a landlord’s duty to use reasonable care is essential

Reasonable Care

A California landowner must use reasonable care in maintaining his property in order to prevent an unreasonable risk of harm.  Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal. 2d 108; Civ. Code §1714.  Thus, landlord owes a tenant a duty of reasonable care in providing and maintaining any rental property in a safe condition.  Civ. Code §1714(a); Peterson v. Superior Court (1995) 10 Cal. 4th 1185, 1189; Alcaraz v. Vece (1997) 14 Cal. 4th 1149, 1156.

The proper test to be applied in determining liability of a property owner is whether in managing his property he acted as a reasonable person in view of the probability of injuring others.  See, Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108, 119.  The question is whether the property owner acted as a reasonable person under all the circumstances.  See, Sprecher v. Adamson Companies (1981) 30 Cal.3d 358, 371-372; see also Stone v. Center Trust Retail Properties, Inc. (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 608, 612 (“reasonable care” requires landlord to ensure property is safe at beginning of tenancy and to repair any hazards landlord learns about later.”)

Factors Considered

In determining whether a landlord owes a duty of care to a tenant, the following factors are considered:

  • Foreseeability of harm to the injured party;
  • Degree of certainty that the injured party suffered injury;
  • Closeness of the connection between the landlord’s conduct and the   injury suffered;
  • Moral blame attached to the landlord;
  • Policy of preventing future harm;
  • Extent of the burden to the landlord;
  • Consequences to the community of imposing a duty on the landlord to exercise care with its resulting liability for breach; and
  • Availability, cost, and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.

See, Rowland v. Christian, 69 Cal. 2d 108, 112-113.

Duty to Inspect and Repair

In general, a property owner must have actual or constructive knowledge of an unsafe condition before liability is imposed.  See, Getchell v. Rogers Jewelry (2012) 203 Cal. App. 4th 381.  A landlord must conduct reasonable periodic inspections of rental property whenever the landlord has legal right of possession.  See, CACI 1006.

Before giving possession of leased property to 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 condition that were or reasonably should have been discovered in the process. See, CACI 1006.

After a tenant has taken possession, a landlord must take reasonable precautions to prevent any unsafe condition in an area of the premises under the tenant’s control if the landlord has actual knowledge of the condition and the right and ability to correct it.  See, CACI 1006.

Conclusion

In short, if you intend to make a profit from renting living space, you must make reasonable upgrades, repairs and inspections.  Otherwise, you may be liable for allowing unsafe conditions to exist on your property within your control and foreseeable harm results.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eva Bonelli is a 2007 graduate from Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Ms. Bonelli has been with the firm for many years now and specializes in general liability defense, employment, and business litigation. Contact her at ebonelli@tysonmendes.com

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