A Ohio tenant hurt by the condition of the premises has to prove that the landlord negligently caused the injury in order to recover money damages for their injuries. Before the Ohio landlord tenant statute was enacted a tenant had great difficulty recovering through the Ohio civil justice system for injuries resulting from defective conditions of the premises.
At common law, (the law made by judges as distinguished from laws made by legislative bodies) the test was whether the landlord had the right to control the area of defect. Even if there was a lease that obligated the landlord to make repairs, and the tenant was injured by the failure to repair, the tenant still could not recover. This was all driven by politics and the ideas of social justice.
Social justice is often what causes the law to change. Changing times driven by social justice trumps money. The concept of people over profits supported the idea that the landlord had the money, and he was making money off the tenant. So it just seemed right that the landlord should bear reponsibility for the injuries sufferred the tenant as a result of the defective apartments, townhouses and homes they rented.
The big erosion of the immunity to landlords was the landlord tenent act . R.C. 5321.04 This law imposed specific duties on the landlord such as:
- Make all repairs and do what is necessarry to make the premises safe.
- Comply with all requirements of applicablle building and safety codes.
- Keep common areas safe.
- Maintain in good and safe working order all appliances, and ...other systems.
However, it was not until the Ohio Supreme Court case of Shroades v. Rental Homes (1) did the Ohio landlord tenant act have any teeth. As the Supreme Court previously said in Thrash v. Hill that there were no remedies for tenant damages given by the statute, as are usually awarded for bodily hurts such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.
What Was The Change Made by the Ohio Supreme Court
The Ohio Supreme Court decided that the Landord Tenant Statute did give the tenant claims for bodily harm for violation of the duties the legislature imposed. The facts of the Schroades case were simple;
A tenant was injured when the steps leading from his private balconey collapsed. The tenant had told the landlord that the steps needed repairs. The Court stated that the tenant did not have to consider if this was a common area, or that the landlord had the right to control. They found the statute gave a remedy for the landlord's failiure to repair calling a violation of the statute negligence as a matter of law.
Expansion of the Landlord Tenant Statute To Independent Contractors
The landlord tenant statute was expanded in the case of Strayer v Lindeman. In that case the landlord hired an independant contrator to fix the fire place. However, the work was faulty and a fire started, and as a result that injured the tenant. The landlord took the position that they were not responsible for the acts of an independant business.
The Court looked to the landlord tenat law that obligated the landlord "to make all repairs and do what is necessary to keep the premises safe." The Court reasoned that this was a non-delagable duty. Thus, the negligence of the contrator was chargeable to the landlord. The key to this decision was the Supreme Court finding the Lanlord-Tenant Statute created a non-delegable duty on the landlord.
The Landlord's Defense of Lack of Notice of the Unsafe Condition
The landlord often argues that they should not be held responsible for a condition that they did not know of. In this case a deck was rotting and fell injuring people on the deck. The Supreme Court held that the violation of R.C. 5321.04 A-1 or A-2 regarding violation of building codes or failing to repair, required actual or constructive notice of the factual conditons that caused the violation and needed the repair. This is a critical distinction in the law. Sikora v Wenzel.
At least constructive notice willl still work to keep the Landord liable. This is notice imputed to the Landlord because the condition existed for a sufficient amount of time and was such that an reasonable inspection could have discovered it.
In an interesting distinction several lower courts did away with the notice requirement for claims brought under the "failure to maintain" provision of the statue part A (4). The distintion was between the duty to maintain and the duty to repair. The duty to maintain requires preventative action. Thus, if it can be shown that there were procedures or inspections that should have been taken that would have prevented the defect, notice of the defect is not required. This still seems to be a constructive notice arguement, but at least it shows the distinction. Smith v Ohio Edison
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