Suppose you own a house, and you lease it
to a family on a month-to-month basis. a few months later,
the next door neighbor comes to you and says that your tenant
is repairing cars on the property and has automobile gas tanks
and other flammable materials strewn about the yard. Even
worse, he tells you that your tenant's children have been
seen playing with a cigarette lighter, and he is concerned
about the fire danger to his own property.
After his visit, you think it over and conclude it's not
your problem. You figure it's not your job to police the activities
of your tenant or his children. All you're doing is leasing
a house. Besides, you need the rent.
You can guess what happens next. The children start a fire,
several explosions follow, the neighbor is badly burned, and
his house is destroyed. Then he sues you. And he wins.
This story is tru, except that you're not the landlord, of
course. Does this mean that every landlord is responsible
for acts of his tenants? Not at all. In fact, the general
rule is that a landlord is not responsible for the acts of
his tenants, including nuisances, dangers, or annoyances created
on the property itself. As the above case illustrates, however,
there are exceptions.
In order for a landlord to be liable for nuisances created
by his tenant, and for the harm that results, three factors
must be present:
(1) The nuisance must be one for which the landlord would
be liable had he created it himself,
(2) At the time the landlord enters into the lease, he
must consent to the activity creating the nuisance or must
know or have reason to know that the activity will be carried
on at the property, and
(3) At the time the landlord enters into the lease, he
then knows or should know that the activity will cause a
Why, then, was the landlord found liable in the above case,
since he learned of the nuisance after he had entered into
the lease? The answer is because a month-to-month lease is
treated as a new lease every month. The landlord is under
no obligation to continue the arrangement, and may terminate
it at virtually any time. Therefore, once the landlord was
informed of the fire danger, he had a duty either to see that
it was corrected or to refuse to allow the lease to be renewed
for another month.
If you, as a landlord, learn of a nuisance or dangerous condition
on your property, you have an obligation to correct it as
soon as you have the legal power to do so by refusing to renew
or extend the lease. You may also be liable if you know or
should know at the time you lease the property that your tenant
will be creating a nuisance or danger to others.
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