Q: A tenant has hired uninsured, unlicensed, and unbonded contractors. Am I liable in the case of injury? How can I protect myself against injury claims?
A: The landlord’s liability depends on the cause of the injury. A landlord, or any owner of property in California, has a duty to prevent injury to people who enter their property. This means that any landlord is obligated to look after their property, inspect it, and correct any dangerous conditions that they are aware of, or should be aware of. If the property is not in a “reasonably safe” condition, the landlord may be liable for negligence if there is an injury. What is “reasonably safe” is determined by looking at the situation as a whole, such as the risk of potential injury, the severity of potential injury, how much it would cost to correct, and so on. This includes posting warnings or similar preventative measures when a condition is known to exist but has not yet been abated. However, the landlord is not expected to take extraordinary measures to guarantee that nobody can or will be injured on the property, just ordinary care that the property is reasonably safe under typical circumstances. This should not be confused with complying with building codes or other laws – a property may still be unsafe even if it could pass an inspection, or was built to code.
A landlord is not liable for the negligent acts of third parties just because they occurred on the landlord’s property. This is because the landlord must have had control over the cause of the injury. For instance, if a painter falls through a staircase because it was rotted away, the landlord may be liable for failing to provide a reasonably safe staircase. But if the painter fell down the staircase because a co-worker bumped his ladder, the landlord would not be liable, if the staircase was otherwise reasonably safe. Also, if the landlord consents to the workers proposed by the tenant, the landlord may be considered an “Owner-Builder” and the “employer” of those workers, and therefore responsible for worker’s compensation insurance, taxes, and other obligations.
There are two ways to protect yourself from injury claims. First, be proactive. If you are uncertain if a condition is unsafe, err on the side of caution. Warn tenants and anyone else who enters the property with signs or a barricade, then get the condition corrected as soon as reasonably possible. Second, confirm that you have adequate insurance coverage which is suitable for rental property. In addition to coverage of “physical” injury, we recommend also obtaining a policy which protects against wrongful eviction, which is a “personal” injury. A standard homeowner’s policy will not have this protection. Finally, hiring uninsured, unlicensed, and unbonded workers is risky for many other reasons. Whenever possible, the landlord should hire professional contractors themselves, not just to protect themselves from liability, but also to ensure that the work is not causing a breach of the lease or rental agreement in terms of its quality and scope.
Copyright © 2017 by Fried & Williams LLP. All Rights Reserved. The information in this article is general in nature and should not be considered legal advice. For any specific matter, please consult with an attorney.