Avoid Liability for Hazardous Conditions

Owning rental property carries duties, and failure to comply with those duties can result in liability, potentially making the venture more costly than it’s worth. These risks increase when the landlord does not manage the property properly.

One such duty is that the landlord remedy hazardous conditions and prevent them from causing harm to person or property on neighboring property. One case that highlights this duty is Vann v. Bailey, 709 So.2d 615 (Fifth District Court of Appeals 1998). In Vann, the issue was whether there was sufficient evidence of the property owner’s actual or constructive knowledge regarding the defective or rotten condition of the laurel oak tree. The court answered in the affirmative, stating and reconfirming an old precedent, “A landowner in an urban area has a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent unreasonable risk of damage to adjoining property arising from defective or unsound trees on the premises.”

This duty means that landlords and property managers may not be able to use ignorance as a defense when the rental property has a known hazardous condition and causes damages to person or property. In Vann, that dangerous condition was a rotten tree, but it could be anything. Therefore, it is incumbent on landlords and property managers to protect themselves from liability and others from harm.

The landlord and property manager, therefore, must take proper steps to carry out this duty. There are some key ways of doing this, including but not limited to the following:

  1. perform a thorough inspection of the property at the beginning of agency for any condition that does or could pose a danger to person or property;
  2. perform a thorough property inspection of the property during the move-out process;
  3. require the property owner to disclose and certify all known or suspected hazardous conditions at the time of signing the property management agreement;
  4. perform regular inspections of the property during a tenancy;
  5. hire licensed contractors or such qualified employees to perform all property inspections;
  6. the lease should require the tenant to notify the property manager immediately upon suspecting any hazardous condition;
  7. the lease should require the tenant to mitigate any potentially hazardous condition when it is safe to do so;
  8. the lease should require the tenant to hold a liability policy for any damages caused by the negligence of the tenant during occupancy;
  9. remove any personal property or appliances that pose dangerous conditions;
  10. implement sound, standardized inspection procedures so nothing important is neglected;
  11. have the property management agreement hold harmless and indemnify the property manager for any liability, damage or cost caused or incurred as a result of a hazardous property condition not created by the manager;
  12. perform maintenance routines that need regular attention to prevent dangerous conditions;
  13. the lease should specify the tenant’s duties relative to potentially dangerous conditions, such as using a fireplace, gas stoves, swimming pools, generators, candles, etc.; and
  14. be particular in what homes to manage—some simply are not worth managing.

If you are a Florida property manager, you need an attorney who focuses his entire law practice on protecting you. Property Management Law Solutions, LLC is that law firm. Contact property management attorney Tim Baldwin through the contact form, be email at tim@198.1.99.25 or call (850) 607-7737 to inquire about legal services designed for property managers. If you are a property owner who uses a property manager to manager your residential rental property, inquire about whether the manager uses PMLS to protect your rental property.