by: Patrick A. Randolph, Jr.
Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law
LANDLORD/TENANT; LANDLORD'S LIABILITY FOR INJURY TO TENANT'S EMPLOYEES: Despite landlord's right under its lease to reenter the premises and make repairs, landlord that had no knowledge of any prior accidents or other facts that would have put it on notice of hazardous conditions prior to tenant's employee's accident had no duty to inspect the premises after the commencement of the lease and thus was not liable to tenant's employee when she slipped and fell.
Gourdi v. Berkelo, 930 P.2d 812 (N.M. 1996).
Plaintiff, tenant's employee, slipped and fell while working in a restaurant. The fall was caused by liquid on the floor due to a drainage backup in the premises.
Although the court noted that Landlord has a duty prior to leasing to remedy any dangerous condition that a reasonable inspection would reveal, it found that there is no evidence that this problem existed prior to leasing. Further, the court held that the landlord was not obligated to provide tenant with premises completely free of defects. As a matter of fairness, the law does not require the landlord to be a guarantor of the tenant's safety. Plaintiff argued that, in this case, the landlord did have a higher duty to tenant because the landlord reserved the right to enter the premises to make repairs, protect and improve the premises.
The court noted, moreover, that imposing absolute duty on landlord to reenter the premises and inspect them without any cause could significantly interfere with tenant's right to use and enjoy the premises. Thus, the court held that the duty imposed on landlord by reserving the right to reenter and repair only arises upon landlord's receipt of notice of facts indicating the need to make an inspection. As the landlord had no such notice in this case, the Supreme Court found that the landlord was not liable.
Compare: Alcraz v. Veche, 929 P.2d 1239 (Cal. 1997) (Landlord has liability for failure to keep safe property adjacent to leased premises if landlord has undertaken to use and maintain this area.)
Comment: This case is in accord with most authority regarding both commercial and residential landlords. There are, of course, cases imposing duties upon landlords to inspect and maintain common areas, but few impose broader duties upon landlords with regard to conditions within the premises.
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