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Can a Rhode Island Landlord be Held Liable for Tenants’ Injuries?

Rhode Island tenants may wonder whether they can recover compensation for injuries incurred on their leased premises by filing a Rhode Island personal injury claim. Under the common law, a landlord could not be held liable for injuries sustained by a tenant or a guest on the premises, unless the landlord breached a covenant to repair in the lease or if the injuries resulted from a latent defect that was known to the landlord. However, this changed through the passage of Rhode Island’s Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.

The Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (the “Act”), which took effect on January 1, 1987, was meant to update and clarify the laws regarding rentals and the rights and obligations of landlords and tenants. The Act applies to rental agreements for residential dwelling units that were entered into, extended, or renewed after January 1, 1987. It also applies to most rental agreements involving public housing or federal subsidized or regulated housing, subject to some exceptions.

Under the Act, a landlord has the responsibility to maintain the premises in a fit and habitable condition. Under section 34-18-22 of the Act, a landlord must comply with applicable building and housing codes, make necessary repairs to keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition, supply running hot water, maintain common areas in a clean and safe condition, and maintain all facilities and appliances supplied by the landlord in good and safe working order, among other duties. These standards were adopted in conformity with the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA).

One state’s supreme court recently decided a case involving the potential liability of a landlord after a tenant fell through an old railing. Evidently, the plaintiff rented a home from the defendants, which included a side porch with an old and poorly maintained railing. The wind pushed the plaintiff onto the railing, which gave way, causing her to fall off the porch and fracture her ankle. Under URLTA, handrails must be “firmly fastened,” maintained in good condition, and able to support “normally imposed loads.” However, the court found that the URLTA did not abrogate the common-law standard for landlord liability. Instead, it stated the URLTA was only meant to supplement common law, not to replace it. Under common law, the landlord did not have a duty apart from warning tenants of any dangerous latent conditions that exist on the property. Because the tenant knew of the railing’s condition, the landlord was not liable.

Contact a Rhode Island Lawyer

At the law firm of Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, we handle all types of Rhode Island real estate and property law issues, including Rhode Island personal injury cases involving rental properties. Landlords have a duty to tenants under Rhode Island law that requires they take care of the known problems and do not unnecessarily put their tenants in danger. Our experienced attorneys represent both landlords and tenants in all types of Rhode Island landlord-tenant disputes. We build close relationships with our clients and will provide you with an honest assessment of your claim. To set up an appointment, call us at 401-300-4055 or fill out our online form.

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