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Tennessee Court Affirms Duty of Landlord to Correct Defects That Arise After Tenant Leases Property

lightbulbLandlords owe a duty of reasonable care to their tenants. If a landlord knows that his or her property has a dangerous condition like a faulty railing or exposed electrical wire, there is a duty to correct such a known dangerous condition or face possible legal repercussions down the road. However, landlords generally are not responsible for dangerous conditions that the tenant creates himself during the course of renting the property. A recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals looks at when a dangerous condition is a landlord’s responsibility and when it is in the hands of the tenant.

In this Tennessee premises liability case, K.H. brought claims against her landlord, Group Properties, LLP, after she was injured by a light fixture that fell from her kitchen ceiling. Shortly after moving into her property, K.H. noticed that there was a water leak in her kitchen ceiling, near the light. She alerted her landlord, and one of the owners inspected the property. He was unable to determine the source of the leak and did not fix it. K.H.’s kitchen ceiling continued to leak, and, according to K.H., she continued to alert Group Properties, LLP of the problem. Nothing was done in response to her complaints, and several months later, K.H.’s ceiling light fell while K.H. was cooking dinner. Water had entered the ceiling fixture and caused it to collapse. After it hit K.H., she slipped on the additional water and suffered further injuries to her back and legs. She sued Group Properties, LLP for damages.

The trial court found Group Properties liable for negligence because Group Properties was on notice of the leak but did nothing to fix it. It entered an award of damages to K.H. to cover her medical expenses and pain and suffering. Group Properties appealed.

On appeal, Group Properties argued that under Tennessee law, landlords are not liable for dangerous conditions that arise in a tenant’s property after the tenant has taken over the property. In support of this argument, the defendants cited to several recent Tennessee cases. However, as the Court of Appeals noted, these cases involved circumstances in which the tenant had himself caused the dangerous condition. For instance, in one case, the tenant conducted a tire shaving business that left rubber dust on the roof. Eventually, the dust collected to such an extent that the roof collapsed. In that case, the Tennessee Court held that the landlord was not responsible for the dangerous condition the tenant created.

Here, by contrast, the Court of Appeals noted that K.H. did not create the dangerous condition – the water leak. Moreover, the Court of Appeals also noted that Group Properties had clear knowledge of the dangerous condition that existed in K.H.’s apartment and the ability to correct it, yet it failed to do so, thereby violating a duty of reasonable care. This was not a situation in which K.H. had caused the water leak to occur, or in which both parties were unaware of a leak prior to the accident. Instead, the Court of Appeals noted, this was a case in which negligence standards clearly applied. Accordingly, it affirmed the decision of the lower court.

When landlords have notice of a dangerous condition on their property, and the tenant’s own actions did not affirmatively create the dangerous condition, the Tennessee Court of Appeals has clarified that premises liability and negligence standards can apply.

If you are a tenant who believes that your landlord failed to respond reasonably to your claims of damage or unsafe conditions, and you have been injured as a result, you should speak to an attorney as quickly as possible. Premises liability attorney Eric Beasley understands the unique challenges that renters face when bringing negligence claims and can assist you in proving that your landlord had notice of your dangerous condition. If you have recently been injured and believe your landlord may be at fault, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.

Related Blog Posts:

Tennessee Court of Appeals Finds Merit in Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, June 8, 2017

Tennessee Court Finds No Claim of Emotional Distress Exists for Property Damage, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, April 6, 2017

Tennessee Court Finds Lack of Knowledge of Dangerous Condition Sufficient For Summary Judgment, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, July 7, 2016