Approximately every two years, WZP Legal and AZREIA have put together a presentation on fair housing and premises liability. We believe that these issues are incredibly important, but are often overlooked issues for members. A recent case out of Oregon highlights that point.
Before delving into the facts in this case, I will acknowledge that there are differences of the law in the courts of Oregon and Arizona. However, the duty to maintain the property is generally the same – a landlord has an obligation to repair defects in a property as they become known or to take adequate steps to notify the tenants when repairs are not possible. In other words, a landlord is not liable for everything on their property; however, when a landlord is put on notice of a problem, they need to take affirmative actions to fix the problem and may be liable if they fail to do so.
In Oregon, a tenant was recently awarded twenty million dollars for falling waist-deep into a second-story walkway. I must repeat this – the tenant was awarded $20,000,00.00 for falling partially through a walkway. Although the tenant did not fall to the first floor nor die, he did sustain severe injuries, including a torn meniscus in his knee which required on-going therapy. I would suspect that the damages awarded was not just based upon his injuries, but as a message to the landlord about maintain the property.
In this case, it was alleged that the landlord knew that there was a problem with rotting wood and would regularly tell maintenance to paint over such problems to hide them. The tenant claimed that this attempt at hiding the defect and deferring maintenance had been on-going for over ten years, and that the estimated cost of repairs were between $750,000.00 to $1,000,000.00. The landlord tried to defend himself on the basis that this was a case of an unfortunate incident, not a pattern of ignoring problems. Unfortunately for the landlord, they had emails from their maintenance about the issue as well as four former employees that testified in support of the tenant.
While this is an extreme case, this just goes to show you what can happen if you do not fix problems in your rental property. We at WZP Legal regularly get asked, “well, what can happen if…?” This story gives you a glimpse into a worst-case scenario. The simple rule – if you know of a problem in your property, it is your job to get it properly fixed or face the consequences.