The Ohio Supreme Court Ruled that a Landlord’s Failure to Keep a Common Area Safe is Negligence Per Se
The Ohio Supreme Court has held that the failure of a Landlord to keep all common areas of the premises safe and sanitary constitutes negligence per se. Further, that the landlord owes this duty to tenants and guests alike.
First, for the non legal scholars, here is the $.05 definition of negligence per se: your failure to follow the law allows the court to assume what you did was negligent. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s move onto the opinion.
The basic gist of the story is the guest of a tenant was leaving the tenant’s second floor apartment at night. The lights that were supposed to be lighting the stairwell were non-operative leaving the stairwell dark. At the bottom of the stairs the guest tripped and fell through a window.
At trial the attorney for the landlord argued that darkness is an obvious danger and the guest should have been more careful (the aptly named open-and-obvious-danger doctrine). While the attorney for the guest argued that R.C. 5321.04(A)(3) imposes a duty on the landlord to make sure the property is safe, and therefore if the property isn’t safe it is the landlord’s fault.
The Ohio Supreme Court in a detailed opinion ultimately agreed that: 1) the landlord owes the same duty to a guest as it would a tenant; 2) That where the legislature has clearly stated the landlord’s responsibilities, the landlord will be liable when he fails to perform those responsibilities (and can’t defend themselves with the fact that the danger was open an obvious).
What does this mean for you? Even if the danger is obvious, it is your duty to make it safe as soon as possible. It would be in your best interests to have procedures in place to make sure stairwells are lit, safety rails are in good repair, and that the property doesn’t have any known dangers. It is also a good reminder that setting up a liability shield is never a bad idea.