Landlords and building owners often do not manage their properties themselves. They typically do not have the time or expertise to actually tend to the property. To do this, they hire a specialized property manager who has experience in things like maintenance and collecting rent from tenants. Property managers are responsible for all parts of the tenant experience, including their safety. They stand in the place of the landlord when it comes to the day-to-day aspects of the tenant experience.
When tenants or others are injured on a property, they must determine who the right person or entity is to sue for their injuries. If that person is held legally responsible, they will need to pay the injured party’s damages. When the owner or landlord does not manage the property, tenants may add other parties to a civil lawsuit for damages, including a property manager.
The Property Manager Can Be Sued for Negligence
The legal standard used in any premises liability case is negligence. In a trial, the judge or jury will review and analyze the actions of everyone who may have been associated with the injury to decide if their actions would be a departure from the necessary standard of care. Specifically, the question is whether anyone acted unreasonably under the circumstances in a manner that caused the plaintiff’s injury.
Safety can include protection from things like hazards on the property or physical attacks, such as robberies and assaults. Depending on the circumstances, it is often the property manager who has the ultimate responsibility for compliance with building codes and providing the necessary protections to keep residents safe on the property and in their homes.
In Texas, the legal obligations in landlord-tenant law apply to the landlord. Section 92 of the Texas Property Code specifically excludes a manager or the agent of the landlord from liability unless they represent themselves as the owner of the property. However, this exception applies to things like repairs and withholding a security deposit. Property managers are not protected from their own negligence, and they can be made to face the legal consequences for it. Section 92 governs the lease and the contract, but it does not cover personal injury law. Therefore, injured accident victims can directly sue property managers because they owe them a duty of care.
Frequent Safety Lawsuits Against Property Managers
The most common types of safety-related lawsuits against property managers happen as a result of:
- Slips and falls
- Physical attacks
In each one of these situations, plaintiffs will allege that there is something the property manager could or should have done to protect them, but failed to do.
When it comes to physical hazards, property managers have the legal obligation to periodically inspect a property. They must remove and fix physical hazards within a reasonable period of time. If not, they must warn the public of the hazard and put some type of guard around the danger. If they themselves have caused the dangerous condition, they have the obligation to fix it, or else they will be held legally responsible for any resulting injuries.
One of the most common examples of this is snow and ice removal. A property manager must clear walkways within a reasonable amount of time or else they could be liable for injuries people sustain by slipping and falling on snow or ice. They must also keep common areas and sidewalks in a reasonably safe condition.
Proving Liability for Tenant Damages
In physical safety cases, the key to success will be showing what the property manager did and comparing it to what they should have done if they were acting reasonably. While they are not required to prevent every accident before it happens, they must take action in a reasonable period of time, especially in the face of a known threat.
This is also how the law treats cases in which someone is physically attacked on a property. The property manager must take measures to protect residents in their homes, including:
- Installing working deadbolts on the doors
- Installing bars on ground floor windows
- Ensuring there is adequate lighting on the property
- Alerting residents of crimes on the property
These are just the basic requirements. If the property is in a high-crime area, or there have been previous incidents, the property manager’s obligations will increase. The key is that the risks of crime must be foreseeable. If the property manager knows of the possibility of crime, they must take additional measures to keep residents safe, including:
- Additional security at the front door and throughout the property
- A video camera system
- Additional protection on the windows
Even if someone else committed a crime, the property manager can be responsible because they failed to provide protection in the face of known threats. A reasonable property manager would increase security measures if they knew the possibility of crime was foreseeable.
Finally, safety also includes protecting residents from physical threats such as fires and toxins, including:
- Ensuring residents have working smoke detectors
- Installing carbon monoxide detectors
- Inspecting the property for fire hazards
- Alerting residents to environmental toxins and taking steps to eliminate them
When a Property Manager Can Be Sued
Anyone who was injured on a property managed by a property manager should consider suing both the property owner and the property manager with the help of experienced Houston civil litigation counsel. While these parties may try to point the finger at each other, neither of them should be able to escape their own legal responsibilities simply because they either didn’t own or didn’t manage the property where the injury occurred.
From the property manager’s standpoint, they should do more than just the bare minimum when it comes to tenant safety. Otherwise, they could cross the line into unreasonable conduct, which could lead to them being legally liable for someone’s injuries. In addition, they may lose business because the last thing that an owner or landlord wants is to be sued for injuries to tenants when they have entrusted their property to a manager.
The lawyers at Feldman & Feldman can work for you to protect your best interests. Don’t wait for the worst to happen, contact us today to schedule a consultation.