Florida follows an Open and Obvious Doctrine, meaning that when an injury is caused by an apparent condition, the landlord will not be held accountable for damages. However, such hazards are not absolutely barred, because landlords also have a duty to maintain their properties in a safe condition.
Landlords have the following duties: (1) To properly maintain common areas; (2) To warn of hidden dangers which they are, or should be, aware of; and (3) To make safe furnished dwellings on short term leases.
Certain questions must be asked in order to determine if a landlord can be successfully sued.
- Was it was the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the portion of the premises that caused the accident?
- Was the landlord given a reasonable time in which to fix the problem, or to give adequate warnings?
- Was fixing the problem not unreasonably expensive or difficult?
- Was the serious injury a foreseeable consequence of not fixing the problem?
- Did the landlord’s actions or failure to act cause the tenant’s accident?
- Was the tenant genuinely hurt?
For example, if a tenant falls and breaks his ankle on a broken stairway, the landlord will be liable if the tenant can show (1) that it was the landlord’s responsibility to maintain the stairway as a common area; (2) that the landlord knew the problem existed; (3) that the landlord failed to fix the problem within a reasonable time; (4) that the hazard resulted in a serious injury that was foreseeable; (5) that the broken stairway actually caused the injury; and (6) that the tenant was legitimately hurt.
If all of these tests are met, a tenant can recover the following damages against a landlord: medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, permanent disability, disfigurement, emotional distress, and damage to personal property, such as a broken watch or broken glasses. In the case of a spouse, a claim for loss of consortium can also be made.
You should also be aware that landlords can be held liable for injuries that occur inside a rental unit due to a landlord’s faulty repair or workmanship. In that case, the landlord may be liable for the defect, if said defect causes a serious injury to occur.
The best way for landlords to avoid potential losses from injuries related to maintenance and repair is to keep the property in good shape. Always prepare a written checklist, and go through the common areas of the property on a regular basis, as well as checking the tenant units before tenants move in. Landlords should also encourage tenants and employees to report any security or safety issues immediately. Keeping a written record of all reports, and showing when and how the problems were resolved, will help keep the building and the tenants safe.