Landlord’s Premises Liability To Third Parties

Andrew M. McKenzie, Edmonds Lawyer

A possessor of real property can be liable for dangerous conditions on land which cause injury to people who enter the land.  However, the legal standard of care owed by the possessor is tied to the status of the visitor.  The law classifies visitors as either trespassers, licensees, or invitees.  As to trespassers and licensees, a landowner generally only owes the duty to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring them.  Tenants are generally considered invitees.  This means that the landlord owes “an affirmative duty to use ordinary care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition.  In the landlord-tenant context, the landlord also owes an affirmative obligation to maintain the common areas of the premises in a reasonably safe condition for the tenants’ use.  Where the danger to the tenant is known or obvious, the landlord is not liable unless the landlord “should anticipate the harm despite such knowledge or obviousness.”

What duties does a landlord owe to the tenant’s guests?  A recent Washington Supreme Court case, Blanco v. Sandoval, reiterated a principle that a landlord owes no greater duty to a tenant’s invitees than the landlord owes to the tenant.  The tenant’s dog bit a visitor, who then sued the landlord.  The injured visitor plaintiff sued the landlord for negligence on the theory that the tenant’s dog was a dangerous condition on the land, giving rise to the landlord’s alleged premises liability.  The landlord admitted he had seen the dog prior to the incident, but claimed he had never had issues with the dog or the tenant.  The Supreme Court held that the landlord was not liable; generally speaking, absent other circumstances, the landlord owe third parties no duty “where the property is rented and the landlord cedes possession to the tenant.”  Therefore, premises liability generally turns on possession, not mere ownership, of land where the alleged dangerous condition exists.  In Blanco, this was true even though the injured visitor claimed the landlord was aware of the dog’s dangerous propensities.  There can be circumstances where a landlord may still be liable to a third party.  Examples could include where the landlord actively created the dangerous condition (as opposed to merely failing to eliminate danger created by the tenant), or where the landlord invited the third party onto the property.  The landlord can also be liable in situations where the landlord retains control over a portion of the leased premises, such as common areas.

The lawyers at Beresford Booth have a wealth of experience with commercial litigation and real estate matters.  We represent both plaintiffs and defendants in real estate litigation, and would be happy to counsel and assist you with your real estate needs.

To learn more about landlord’s premises liability, please contact Beresford Booth at info@beresfordlaw.com or by phone at (425) 776-4100.

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