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When a Negligent Landlord Can’t Be Sued for Negligence

Posted on Monday, August 13th, 2018 at 4:16 pm    

A recent sexual assault case in a rented apartment has highlighted the failure of Texas liability law to clarify who is responsible for a defect in the security system used in a rented property.

The case revolves around two women who shared an apartment in Garland. One of the women apparently noticed that a latch securing one of the external windows was faulty and asked her landlord to fix it. Under the Texas property code it is a landlord’s responsibility to fix window latches, amongst other things that could compromise the security of the property they are renting out.

The landlord in this case claimed that he had organized a maintenance worker to fix the lock. The two women were satisfied with the response, but were attacked a couple of months later by an intruder. They were both sexually assaulted by the intruder, who was later located by police and arrested. The intruder said he had managed to get in through the same window that had its latch supposedly fixed, because the latch wasn’t fixed!

$1 million premises liability lawsuit against the landlord

The two women filed a $1 million lawsuit against the landlord, claiming that he was negligent in his duty to maintain the integrity of the apartment and that this negligence contributed directly to the attack on them by the intruder.

The case was heard in court by a trial jury and it was determined that there was shared fault. The share of fault was determined as: 40% by the landlord, 10% by the tenant who noticed the faulty latch and brought it to the attention of the landlord and 50% by the intruder. There is no indication in the court report why it was decided that one of the victims of the attack was considered partly negligent herself. Maybe it was determined that she had failed to test the latch herself after being told by the maintenance worker that he had fixed it.

Appeals Court rules out liability and overturns the original decision

The landlord then appealed and the Appeals Court threw out the lower court’s judgment, on the basis that under Texas liability law, it must be shown by the plaintiffs that the landlord could have ‘foreseen’ the danger inherent in the failure to fix the latch. The Appeals Court ruled in this case that the landlord could not have foreseen that an intruder could have entered the apartment because of a failure to fix the latch properly.

Most right minded people would probably be surprised that the Appeals Court could have come to such a decision. It is a good example of the law being technically correct, but it is still a law which should be changed. As it stands at present, it appears that it puts an unreasonable burden on tenants to take their own precautions against a landlord’s inability to deal with reasonable requests to fix broken equipment which could lead to the property being broken into.

It could be argued that if there had been another attack or attacks in the immediate neighborhood which involved an intruder managing to take advantage of a poorly secured entrance way that the landlord would then be unable to put up a defense that he could not have foreseen an illegal entry of the type described in the case in the Garland apartment.

Until the law is changed, it does mean that tenants do need to be more careful when they find their doors and windows improperly fixed. Even if their landlord has a statutory right to making sure the faults are remedied, it appears that tenants cannot rely on the courts to defend their right to insist that their landlord makes their rented accommodation secure from intruders.

If you have been the unexpected victim of a defective product, or have been the victim of an assault or burglary that has taken place in a rental property that a landlord has claimed to have fixed, you should contact a premises liability attorney at San Antonio Injury lawyer here in San Antonio. You can make an appointment for a free consultation to discuss your legal options by phoning the office at 833-210-4878 today.