Who's to blame when renter falls on stairway?

Rent it Right

Q: A tenant’s guest is suing us for injuries she says she suffered when she fell on a staircase at our building. The staircase had been recently repaired; our resident manager had replaced three loose steps just a few days earlier. He didn’t know about the loose one she claims she tripped on.

He is very conscientious at his job and can’t be expected to keep his eyes glued to every inch of the property 24 hours a day, can he? Isn’t there a limit to what a property owner can be held liable for? –Betsy B.

A: A judge answering your question would pose another question, in turn: "Was this accident foreseeable, and did management take reasonable steps (pardon the pun) to avoid it?" Although it’s impossible to know how a judge would rule based on the few facts you’ve provided, here’s a few things to think about.

First, could you (or your manager; for these purposes, you are one and the same) foresee such an accident? Your manager was on notice that more than one step needed attention, and he repaired those three. But I can imagine the injured guest arguing that knowledge of three loose steps should have triggered a thorough inspection of the entire staircase.