What happens when you or a friend slips on the icy steps at your rental unit? Responsibility in most rental situations is addressed in the lease. For example, renters are generally responsible for damages that occur inside the rental property, while the landlord is liable for the condition and safety of the exterior unit; however, as with anything in life, there are always exceptions. Multi-family dwellings are different from single-family dwellings. Also, there are different scenarios in which the liability might shift or be divided in some cases.

The Lease Language

If the lease clearly states that you as a single-family home renter are responsible for the entire rental property as far as maintaining things, such as icy steps and unobstructed sidewalks, and the lease language aligns with state law, then the liability in a slip-and-fall accident on your steps would lie with you. Of course, if there is a clear safety issue outside the renter’s responsibility that the landlord knew about and failed to address, then the assignment of liability would change.

If you are in an apartment complex or any kind of multi-family dwelling, the landlord would be liable for maintaining the stairs. However, if it snowed at 3 a.m. and you slip down your stairs at 6 a.m., the issue of liability becomes murky. You can’t really expect a landlord to clear and salt the steps the minute conditions turn ugly. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the landlord failed to correct a safety issue. Now, if you called the landlord and told him the steps were impassable and he did nothing to correct the issue in a reasonable amount of time, the liability lands squarely in the landlord’s corner. What is a, “reasonable amount of time?” Well, that is why we have attorneys and judges.

When to Call a Lawyer

In many cases an attorney is needed to give you a reasonable assessment on liability. Sometime things are clear cut, but usually there are different variables that must be considered. The most important thing to remember when you are looking at recovering damages is that you need the advice of an attorney, and the quicker the better. If you can photograph the area where the accident occurred, do it. If there were witnesses, get their information.

Renters often fear tangling with their landlord. It is their home, and it can be frightening to take on the landlord and a big insurance company with plenty of lawyers that are working solely for your landlord’s interests. You need an attorney protecting your rights. An attorney can ensure that your case is fairly adjudicated and your rights as a tenant are protected during the process.

Peter Wendt is a freelance article writer and commercial researcher working out of Austin. To find out more on this topic, Peter suggests you take a look at The Willens Law Offices, which he has found to be a useful resource.

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