Georgia landowners may be held accountable for dangerous property conditions that injure a third party, even if the property is being rented to someone else. In a recent Georgia premises liability lawsuit, a plaintiff sued the defendant for damages after she stepped into a concealed hole while visiting a rental home owned by the defendant.
The defendant had leased the rental home to the plaintiff’s friend. The friend held a party at the house, which the plaintiff attended. During the party, the plaintiff went into the backyard and approached a chair circle. She stepped into a concealed hole that was hidden by overgrown grass. She felt a pain and heard a loud noise as her ankle broke. She also suffered a torn ligament.
The plaintiff sued the owner of the rental home. The complaint alleged the defendant hadn’t used ordinary care to keep the rental home premises safe. The defendant made a motion for summary judgment, claiming she didn’t know about any dangerous condition on the property, since it was in her tenant’s possession. The lower court granted the summary judgment motion. The plaintiff appealed. The trial court agreed with the defendant and granted the motion.
The appellate court explained, a Georgia landlord won’t be held accountable to a third party unless the third party can show the damages were the result of faulty construction on the property or failure to repair the property. When a landlord doesn’t have possession, she is only liable where there’s both a duty to repair and notice of the dangerous condition. A landlord that keeps control over rental property can be accountable even if they don’t have actual notice of a dangerous condition, if she should have known about it in the exercise of ordinary care. Under these circumstances, a landlord has the same obligations as a general owner of real estate who invites others to come onto the property and use it. She should make sure reasonable care is used to keep the property reasonably safe and fit for the invited visitors’ uses.
The plaintiff’s friend who rented the home testified that the defendant had agreed to maintain the outside area including the yard. She sent someone to do yard maintenance. The court explained that the friend’s testimony as a renter raised a factual issue about whether the owner had kept control over the backyard and therefore owed a duty of ordinary care to keep the yard reasonably safe for those that were invited, such as the plaintiff.
There was also a factual issue regarding notice. The friend had testified that the property owner didn’t behave in a responsible fashion in maintaining the outside areas and didn’t inspect it for dangers. However, the size of the hole and the overgrown grass would allow a reasonable jury to infer that the hole had been there for a long time and would have been seen during routine maintenance. Therefore, there was a factual issue about whether the defendant had constructive notice; with constructive notice, the court looks at whether a property owner using ordinary care should have known about the danger.
The appellate court held the lower court had made a mistake in granting the summary judgment motion for the defendant. It reversed.
If you were injured due to a dangerous condition on someone else’s rental property, you should consult an experienced premises liability attorney right away to discuss whether you have a claim. It can be difficult to establish notice if too much time passes between the time of the accident and the lawsuit, as evidence may vanish and memories may fade. Attorney Stephen M. Ozcomert has more than two decades of experience representing those injured in Atlanta accidents. He represents clients throughout Georgia. Contact him at (404) 370-1000 or through our website.