Landlord Liability for Slip and Fall Injuries

When are landlords responsible for injuries on their rental properties?

Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney UC Berkeley School of Law
Updated 3/22/2023

If you slip and fall in your rental house or apartment, could your landlord be legally responsible for your injuries? What about if the fall happens outside the house, or in one of your apartment building's common areas? In this article we'll explain:

  • what landlords are—and are not—legally obligated to do to keep their properties safe, and
  • what a tenant should do after an accident on rental property, and
  • what you need to prove for a successful personal injury claim over a slip and fall on rental property.

When Are Landlords Legally Responsible for Tenants' Slip-and-Fall Injuries?

Just like in any personal injury claim, to succeed with a slip-and-fall case the injured person has to show that someone was negligent.

When lawyers talk about "negligence," they mean responsibility for an accident and the resulting injuries. Proving that a landlord was responsible for a slip-and-fall injury would involve showing that:

  • The landlord was required to do something (or avoid doing something) to keep the property safe. (Landlords' exact legal responsibilities vary by state and local law, but they are always required to perform maintenance and repairs to keep their rental properties safe and habitable for tenants and visitors.)
  • The landlord didn't fulfil one of those legal responsibilities.
  • Because of the landlord's failure, someone fell and suffered an injury.

Keep in mind that landlords aren't expected or required to keep their properties completely safe. One key question is whether the landlord knew—or should have known—about the dangerous condition. If the landlord did know, then courts will look at whether the landlord acted appropriately to protect people and eliminate the danger.

In other words, were the landlord's decisions and actions reasonable under the circumstances?

Let's look at a couple of examples of how these legal rules apply in real-world situations.

Is Your Landlord Liable If You Slip and Fall Inside Your Rental Apartment or House?

Let's say that there's a leak in the ceiling of your rental apartment. The water pools on the floor and you end up slipping and falling. Your landlord's liability would depend, in part, on whether they knew or should've known about the leak.

If the leak started unexpectedly, and you slipped before you had time to notify the landlord, it's unlikely the landlord would be found negligent. In that scenario, the landlord didn't know about the leak and had no opportunity to act reasonably and fix it.

On the other hand, the landlord could be liable if:

  • they knew about problems with the plumbing, but failed to warn their tenants or make necessary repairs; or
  • they were informed about the leak and took an unreasonably long time to deal with the problem.

Remember that a landlord's liability depends, in part, on whether the injured person's behavior was reasonable. In a situation like this, a judge or jury would consider whether you took proper precautions once you knew about the leak. Juries, especially, often hold personal injury plaintiffs to a high standard and assume that they should have been on the lookout for danger.

That's why, if you notice an unsafe condition in your rental house or apartment, you should notify your landlord immediately, and also take reasonable steps to protect yourself.

Depending on the issue or potential danger, it could make sense to:

  • deal with it yourself
  • avoid it until the landlord takes care of it, or
  • leave your home temporarily.

If the problem is serious, and the landlord doesn't take care of it quickly, you might want to consult an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law. Legal aid organizations and state and local governments often offer this kind of advice free of charge.

Is Your Landlord Liable for a Slip-and-Fall Accident In the Common Areas or Outside of a Rental Property?

Let's say you're hurt in a slip-and-fall in one of the common areas of your apartment building (or on the path or sidewalk of your rented house). The location's different, but you can think about your landlord's potential liability in the same way you would if you fell inside your rental unit.

First, you need to know if your landlord was responsible for maintaining and repairing the area where the accident happened. There are two important points here:

  • In general, landlords do have a legal responsibility to make sure common areas of their rental properties are safe. That means they need to do things like repair cracked and uneven pavement, and make sure that the front steps are sturdy and level.
  • But, in some cases, you might have agreed in your lease to take on certain responsibilities.

So, what if you slip on ice on the walkway going from the front door of your rental house to the street? In general it's the landlord's responsibility to keep driveways and pathways clear of snow and ice. But, before concluding that your landlord is responsible for your accident, you'd need to make sure that you didn't agree in your lease to shovel the snow and salt the pavement yourself.

Second, you (and, potentially, a judge or a jury) will need to ask if your injuries were the result of your landlord's failure to fulfil their responsibilities. Let's consider a situation where you're injured in a fall on the stairs in your apartment building's common area. Your landlord's liability would depend, in part, on whether your actions and your landlord's actions were reasonable. Consider these two examples:

  • You notice that one of the steps seems to be a little shaky, and you notify your landlord. The landlord checks the stairs and tells you there's nothing to worry about, but a week later the step gives way and you're hurt in the fall. Here, you'd have a good argument that your landlord is liable for failing to take reasonable actions to check and repair the stairs.
  • You walk out of your apartment and see that one of your neighbors has dropped a bag of groceries on the stairs, and there's milk spilling down the steps. As you're trying to walk around the spill, you slip and fall. Here, it would be tough to argue that your landlord is liable—landlords aren't expected to know about and immediately fix every potentially dangerous incident on their property.

What Should You Do If You Think Your Landlord Is Liable for Your Slip-and-Fall Injury?

If you're hurt in a slip-and-fall accident and think your landlord might be responsible, it's vital to act quickly to make sure you have the strongest possible claim. That includes:

  • getting medical attention for your injuries and saving records of your treatment
  • taking pictures of the accident scene (especially if you slipped on snow or ice that might melt quickly), and
  • getting the names and contact information of people who witnessed the accident.

If you live in a multi-unit building, you should also see if other tenants either saw the dangerous condition that caused your accident, or have had any issues getting the landlord to address their safety concerns. Gathering evidence like this, and deciding how to communicate with the landlord or their insurance company, are areas where you could want help from an experienced personal injury attorney.

Taking the Next Steps With Your Slip-and-Fall or Landlord-Tenant Claim

If you've been injured in a fall, you can learn more about how to make a slip-and-fall claim and about when a property owner is liable for accidents on their property. You can also read more about your legal rights and obligations as a tenant or a landlord.

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