Landlord Tenant Liability

March 30, 2006

The Court of Appeals recently issued Dutton v. McFarland, published, a premises liability case, discussing landlord liability to an invitee of its tenant. Dutton exited the property’s entrance and fell after she stepped from the front stoop onto deteriorated and uneven pavement. The pavement was covered by a rug placed there by Glass to dry. The Warren Circuit Court granted summary judgment to the McFarlands who leased the property to Shawnna Glass.

The Court summarized the state of landlord-tenant liability in Kentucky. In short, a landlord only has a duty to disclose a known defective condition at the time of leasing, which is neither known to the tenant nor discoverable through reasonable inspection. Otherwise, the tenant takes the premises as he finds them. When a tenant is put in complete and unrestricted possession and control of the premises … the landlord is only liable for the failure to disclose known latent defects at the time the tenant leases the premises. The duties of a landlord to persons on the leased premises by the consent of the tenant are the same as those owed to the tenant. If the tenant has no redress, than neither do those on the premises in the tenant’s right.

The Dutton’s argued, however, that the McFarlands were negligent per se for violating the International Property Maintenance Code adopted by the City of Bowling Green into its Code of Ordinances. They relied upon both KRS 13.081 and the case of Rietze v. Williams, 458 S.W.2d 613, 617 (Ky. 1970), which held properly adopted administrative regulations have the force and effect of law and when violated constitute an exception to this general rule. Unfortunately, KRS 13.081 was repealed in 1974 and Reitze was overruled by Centre College v. Trzop, 127 S.W.2d 562 (Ky. 2003), insofar as Reitze relied upon KRS 13.081 in holding that “KRS 446.070 allows recovery for violation of an administrative regulation.” Centre only allowed recovery for those public safety regulations enabled by and closely based on Kentucky statutes. The safety regulation relied upon was not adopted pursuant to an enabling statute enacted by the General Assembly, but instead is a municipal regulation. KRS 446.070 does not apply to municipal regulations. Since there were no other statutory or legal grounds for liability against the landlord, summary judgment was appropriate.

COMMENTARY: It is important to remember that a landlord is not responsible to a tenant or its invitees for defects in the premises unless, 1) the defect is known to the landlord but unknown or undiscoverable by the tenant at the time of leasing, or 2) it is an area of the premises that the landlord maintains custody and control over, i.e., common areas. In this case, neither condition existed and summary judgment was appropriate. Good primer language for personal injury cases involving landlord tenant issues.

Also, an interesting discussion of negligence per se and the basis for such a claim. Claim of negligence per se, involving safety regulations must extend from regulations adopted “pursuant to the exact mandate of their enabling statute.” Unless there is a statute that enables the safety regulation or is closely related to the safety regulation, the regulation cannot form the basis of a negligence per se claim. Municipal regulations do not typically fall into this category.

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