Landlord Liability

Did you know?  Should you have known?

I’ve always said, “You can do everything right, and still, someone will sue you.”  Being a housing provider is a high-liability business.  No matter how well you maintain your property there is always something that could go wrong.

Michele Holt Mamertoand NielMamerto (referred to as the Mamertos) owned a residential property located in Escondido, California.  In 2005, they rented the property to George Jakubec.  The same year the Mamertos hired Mario Garcia to maintain the landscaping, which he continued to do at least once every two weeks throughout the duration of the tenant’s residency.  On November 18, 2010, Garcia was injured when he walked over unstable explosive (bomb) material on the backside of the premises and the material exploded under him.

The Garcias sued for premises liability alleging the Mamertos were negligent in maintaining the premises by allowing explosive materials to be kept on the premises.  It was undisputed the Mamertos did not have actual knowledge of the explosive materials on the premises.Nor were they made aware of any suspicious behavior or activity. In addition, Garcia and his employees admitted they found no indication of a dangerous condition during the five years they provided landscaping services.

A repairman entered the premises to replace the garbage disposal in September 2009 and reported to the Mamertos that everything was fine at the house. A pest control company did not notice suspicious activity when servicing the exterior of the property on a quarterly contract. Niel also visited the premises himself on one occasion and did not observe any problems

Although it was clear the Mamertos had no knowledge of explosive materials on the premises, the Garcias argued the Mamertos had a corresponding duty to make “reasonable periodic inspections” regardless of actual knowledge of a dangerous condition. The Garcias misconstrued the law. The obligation to inspect arises “only if the property owner had some reason to know there was a need for such action.” Once the original lease expired, the month-to-month tenancy may have given the Mamertos the right and the ability to cure a condition by terminating the lease on proper notice, but only if they knew about the condition or had some reason to know inspection was necessary.

The court ruled in favor of the Mamertos.  However, the court noted, if there was some reasonable basis that an inference could be drawn that the property owners were aware of what was going on at their property they would have been held liable.

Case:  Mario Garcia and Esperanza Garcia v. Michele Holt and NielMamerto(erroneously sued as Neil Mamerto) – 2016

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Sandy Adams President, Co-Founder Rental Housing Network, Inc. Broker/Owner, Sandy Adams Properties Sandy Adams is President and Co-Founder of Rental Housing Network, Inc and Owner of Sandy Adams Properties. She started her real estate career in 1978. After obtaining her broker’s license in 1985, she began specializing in residential property management. Sandy has served on numerous boards and committees for NARPM (National Association of Residential Property Managers) and CAA (California Apartment Association), as well as serving two full terms on the San Jose Advisory Commission on Rents. She has also taught several landlord workshops for small investment groups and Realtors.

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