The general rule with regard to liability of a lessor or lessee of leased premises is that the breach of duty is that of an occupant and not of a landlord. Therefore the liability always falls upon a lessee or tenant. The mere argument that the premises that caused the injury were leased by a lessor will not make such lessor liable[i].
Usually, in an injury of third persons from leased premises, the lessee or tenant having control of the leased premises is deemed the owner. Therefore, the fact that a shop was running in a leased premise will in no way lessen a lessee’s duty of keeping the premises reasonably safe for customers. Likewise, where a lessee is in entire possession, occupancy, and control of a leased premise that was in good condition at the time of lease, such lessee will be made liable for injuries to third persons instead of a lessor. In case where an action is brought against a lessor, s/he can plead especially about the lease and about the possession, occupancy, and control of premises by another[ii].
In addition, a lessor will not be liable to a lessee or others for physical harm caused by natural or artificial conditions that existed at the time of the lease, unless a lessor has concealed such conditions.
However, the liability of a lessor will cease to exist when s/he surrenders the possession and control of premises to a landlord. Hence, a lessee will not be liable for injuries subsequently sustained by persons as a result of defects in premises or on the property. The reason being that a party who ceases to exercise possession and control of property should not be held responsible for injuries that it no longer has the power to avert[iii].
Likewise, a lessee or tenant will not be responsible for the safety of common stairways, hallways, or parking lots used by several tenants in common[iv]. Because, where a lessor of a premise leases parts of a building to different tenants by reserving either expressly or impliedly other parts of such building such as entrances, halls, stairways, porches, and walks for the common use of different tenants, it is a lessor’s duty to exercise reasonable care with respect to such parts that is under his/her control[v]. For instance, when a patient suffers an injury from a slip and fall in the building’s stairways, the physician cannot be made liable because the stairways although part of the common area were not specifically leased to the tenant and thus remained under the lessor’s control.
However, a lessor can be made liable to third persons for injuries caused by defects in leased premises during the term of the lease under the following situations[vi]:
- where the defect in the premise was a violation of law; or
- where the defect in the premise was in the nature of a nuisance existing or incipient because of negligent construction or otherwise; or
- where the lessor has entire or partial control of the premises; or
- where the lessor is required by law or undertakes to keep or assist in keeping the premises in repair; or
- where the lessor’s negligence or participation is the proximate cause of the injury.
[i] Gray v. Fox W. Coast Serv. Corp., 93 Mont. 397 (Mont. 1933).
[ii] Kelly v. Laclede Real Estate & Inv. Co., 348 Mo. 407 (Mo. 1941).
[iii] Mason v. City of Mt. Sterling, 122 S.W.3d 500 (Ky. 2003).
[iv] Trimble v. Spears, 182 Kan. 406 (Kan. 1958).
[v] Turnipseed v. McGee, 236 Miss. 159 (Miss. 1959).
[vi] Vanner v. Goldshein, 216 So. 2d 759 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 3d Dist. 1968).