In areas of the country cold enough to allow water to freeze into ice, slip and falls are common. If it happens to you on your landlord’s property, and you are injured, you may be able to recover money for your injuries from your landlord. In many areas of the country, landlords are held responsible for the removal of ice and snow on common areas. If it happens to you, you should seek an experienced personal injury attorney to advise you of your rights.
Your Landlord’s Duty
Historically, in most of the United States, a landlord did not have any obligation to remove ice and snow from common areas, unless the lease stated otherwise. Today, many states hold landlords responsible for ice and snow removal on the premises, despite the lack of contractual provisions in the lease requiring ice/snow removal. Thus, a landlord may be held liable for injuries caused by tenants falling on ice or snow, which have accumulated on steps, porches, sidewalks, or other common areas.
In addition, a landlord may be held responsible for maintaining buildings on the property so that they do not contribute to the accumulation of ice or snow on walks. For example, a landlord may be considered negligent if defects in the roofs or eaves or potholes in the walk itself cause water to collect and pool in one spot, because such defects may lead to an unreasonably hazardous accumulation of ice when the water freezes.
A landlord’s duty, however, extends only so far. A landlord is allowed a reasonable amount of time after a storm to remove ice and snow. This is because removal during the occurrence of a snowstorm would most likely be ineffective. Similarly, a landlord may not be considered negligent for failing to take care of ice on a sidewalk if the landlord only received notice of the icy conditions shortly before he or she began removal. A landlord may be allowed several hours after notice of icy conditions to begin remedying the situation. If a landlord has no notice of icy conditions, and has no reason to know of icy conditions in a particular spot, he may not be held liable for a slip and fall injury due to the ice.
In addition, a landlord may not be considered responsible for a tenant’s fall on a patch of ice if the tenant had equal or better knowledge of the ice than the landlord. However, if the tenant was forced to use an icy stairway or walkway because there was no safer alternate route, the landlord may still be liable even considering the tenant’s superior knowledge.
Thus, a landlord is not always completely responsible for tenants who have fallen on icy patches. The landlord must take reasonable precautions to prevent accidents from happening. This may entail application of sand or salt to icy areas, shoveling snow from sidewalks and stairs, and providing adequate lighting to enable tenants to see icy spots at night. Ultimately, the question of whether a landlord has taken reasonable precautions to prevent falls on icy areas is one for a jury to decide.
Whether a landlord has a duty to prevent the build-up of snow and ice, and whether he or she has fulfilled that duty, is not a clear-cut area of law. Usually the assistance of an experienced attorney is required to help an injured tenant decide whether to sue his or her landlord. So, if you have been injured from a fall on the ice, you would be well-advised to discuss your accident with an experienced attorney.