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Keeping the Premises Safe

Keeping the Premises Safe

A property owner or a person in possession of property has legal responsibility for the safety of the premises. These responsibilities vary from state to state. They may even vary by the type of person on the property. An attorney who is knowledgeable about the law of premises liability can advise you regarding the property owner’s responsibilities under the law of your state.

Condition of the Property

In many states, the property owner or other person in possession of the property, such as a tenant, must exercise reasonable care to make the premises safe for anyone on the premises lawfully, including social guests, customers, etc. This usually means that the property owner has the duty to inspect the property periodically, and either to repair dangerous conditions or to issue adequate warnings of the dangerous conditions.

The frequency of the inspections, as well as the decision whether to repair or merely post a warning, will depend on a number of factors. For example, a property owner probably will be required to make more frequent inspections of a building lobby that has visitors entering and leaving fairly constantly than of an interior room with restricted admission and little use. Similarly, it is likely that an exercise of reasonable care would require a property owner to replace burned-out light bulbs in a dark stairway, while a sign that draws attention to a slight incline may be sufficient for a well-lit hallway. The determination of whether a property owner’s efforts are reasonable will depend upon all of the circumstances surrounding the use and nature of the property.

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Status of People on the Property

In some states, a property owner has different duties to keep property safe depending on the status of the person visiting the property. If a person is an invitee, he or she is on the property for the benefit of the owner of the property, such as a customer in a retail store. Property owners owe the highest duty of care to invitees and must take reasonable steps to ensure their safety. A licensee is on the property as a social guest or as someone there for his or her own purposes, such as a salesperson or solicitor.

A property owner has the duty to warn a licensee of known dangerous conditions, but has no duty to make an inspection of the property. It is sometimes said that a licensee uses the property in the same condition as the owner uses it. A person on the property unlawfully is a trespasser, and the only legal duty owed is to refrain from actively creating conditions that would injure the trespasser. An exception to this in most states is a child trespasser, to whom the landowner also owes a heightened duty of protection because of a child’s particular vulnerability to an attractive nuisance.

In some states, the trend is to do away with the distinction between licensees and invitees, and consider only whether the person is on the property lawfully or unlawfully.

Conclusion

The rules regarding what a property owner must do to protect people on his or her property will vary, according to many different factors and by state. An attorney experienced in the area of premises liability will be able to advise you about property owner duties.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.