Defective Staircases in Apartments and Landlord Liability
According to the National Floor Safety Institute, 40 percent of falls in the United States are from an elevated area, such as a staircase. Falls account for nearly eight million hospital emergency room visits each year and are one of the leading causes of missed days from work. Consider this: you’ve fallen down the stairs at your apartment complex and have sustained injuries due to the fall; further, the staircase has been improperly maintained. Now what? Who pays for your injuries? Read on for more information.
Common Causes of Staircase Falls in Apartments
Staircases can be hazardous even in the best of circumstances. However, when the stairs have been poorly maintained, they pose an even greater risk to those who use them. Some of the common maintenance issues that will cause a staircase to pose a danger include:
- Failure to maintain proper lighting within the stairwell
- Failure to maintain or install proper handrails
- Improperly constructed staircases (often with steps of varying heights)
- Worn flooring material that causes the steps to be slippery
- Flooring that has buckled and presents a tripping hazard
- Wet or icy conditions on outdoor stairs
- Failure to secure the proper building permits before construction
Filing a Lawsuit
To file a premises liability lawsuit against your landlord due to injuries that you’ve incurred because of a defective staircase, you must show that the landlord knew about the condition before your injury took place. Some of the ways that you can show that your landlord knew the dangerous staircase existed include:
- The problem existed before you moved into the apartment.
- Your landlord has actually seen and acknowledged that the problem exists.
- You have informed your landlord of the problem in writing.
- You have reported the unsafe staircase to the Board of Health, an inspector has confirmed that an unsafe condition exists, and the Board of Health has notified your landlord of the problem.
- Another tenant has informed the landlord of the unsafe condition, and it affects you too.
- The problem existed before a new landlord purchased the building.
Due to time limits on filing a lawsuit and other particulars of the state’s Tenant’s Rights laws, seek the guidance of an experienced premises liability attorney before filing. Your attorney can inform you of the legal options you have available to you based on the facts of your case, and can provide powerful negotiation in an attempt to reach a settlement with the landlord before the case sees the inside of the courtroom.
Tenants’ Rights in Massachusetts
Property owners or those employed to manage a property on behalf of the owner in Massachusetts are required by law to maintain the property and keep it safe from hazards, such as dangerous staircases. Additionally, Massachusetts conveys specific rights to tenants to protect them from living in dangerous conditions. Under state law, tenants have the right to live in habitable premises. A habitable premise is one that:
- Has a heating system for each apartment unit
- Has a sink and stove in working order in the kitchen, as well as the hook-up for a refrigerator
- Has water and a hot water heater capable of heating water to 110 to 130 degrees F
- Is free from rodent and bug infestations
- Has a well-maintained foundation, floors, walls, stairwells, windows, ceilings, and porches. These areas must be in good repair and fit for human habitation at all times.
Landlords in the business of renting property must guarantee that such property is maintained and habitable. Generally, this is done through a warranty of habitability, which states that, in exchange for your rent, the landlord agrees to keep the property in good condition. This warranty means that at the beginning of rental there are no defects on the property vital to the use of the premises for residential purposes and that the property will remain free of these defects during the entire term of the tenancy. The implied warranty, which is based on the state sanitary code and local health regulations, cannot be waived in the lease or rental agreement.
This warranty is violated if the landlord has knowledge of a condition on the property that might endanger your health, safety, or well-being, and fails to rectify the situation. If you were injured due to a defective staircase, and you have notified the landlord in writing of the condition and your injuries, and he or she has failed to fix the stairs, you have options.
Before taking any of the following actions, however, consult a lawyer who can advise you as to the best course forward.
- You may withhold your rent until repairs are made. If you decide to pursue this option, it is strongly recommended that you place the withheld rent in a separate account. If the court finds in favor of your landlord or the landlord makes the requested repairs, you will be expected to pay the rent that you withheld and could face eviction if you don’t.
- You may hire someone to fix the staircase and deduct the cost from your rent, provided either the building inspector or the court have found that a dangerous condition exists, your landlord has been notified of the condition, and repairs have not been made within 14 days of this notification. If this criterion has been met, then you are lawfully allowed to deduct only a total of four months’ rent in any 12 month period.
- You may break your lease based on the violation of the warranty of habitability. Be warned, however, that if the condition is not deemed serious, and there is no Board of Health or inspector report noting the conditions, your landlord may try to sue you for the balance of rent payments due until your lease ends.
- You may file a lawsuit seeking compensation for expenses related to your injury, as well as any work you’ve missed due to your injury and other expenses you have incurred.
If you wish to have your apartment staircase inspected by a local building inspector, it is generally a good practice to do so only after you’ve informed the landlord of the condition in writing and have given him or her the opportunity to make the needed repairs. If the inspector does find the condition dangerous, he or she has the right to order that the landlord make the necessary repairs within a reasonable time frame.
What If the Landlord Kicks Me out for Complaining?
State law prohibits property owners from evicting a tenant who makes them aware of dangerous conditions on the property, who contacts the Board of Health about a dangerous condition, or who files a lawsuit based on injuries incurred due to the unsafe condition.
For more information about premises liability laws, schedule a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.
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