Causes of Action: Torts, Premises Liability in landlord tenant context

From Mallipali v. Broaddus, COA, NPO, 2/18/2011

The ge|eral rule is that the tenant takes the premises as he finds them and a landlord is not liable for injuries to the tenant or his property because of defects in the leased premises in the absence of a contract or warranty as to the condition of the premises or to repair same, and where the landlord is guilty of no fraud or wilful wrong.

Clary v. Hayes, 300 Ky. 853, 190 S.W.2d 657, 659 (Ky. 1945), citing Lindsey v. Kentucky Dev. Co., 291 Ky. 253, 163 S.W.2d 499, 500 (Ky. 1942).

Malapelli offers no evidence of fraud or willful wrong on the part of Broaddus. The Kentucky Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act defines “willful” as an action with “deliberate intention, not accidentally or inadvertently, and done according to a purpose.” Kentucky Revised Statute(s) (“KRS”) 383.545(17). While Broaddus admits he directed Malapelli not to remove the carpet runner, he did so only with the intent of keeping her or any guests from slipping on the staircase.

The law governing the landlord-tenant liability is further summarized in Lambert v. Franklin Real Estate Co., 37 S.W.3d 770 (Ky. App. 2000).

[A] landlord has a duty to disclose a known defective condition which is unknown to the tenant and not discoverable through reasonable inspection. However, [i]t has been a longstanding rule in Kentucky that a tenant takes the premises as he finds them. The landlord need not exercise even ordinary care to furnish reasonably safe premises, and he is not generally liable for injuries caused by defects therein. [T]he landlord is under no implied obligation to repair the demised premises in the absence of a contract to that effect, nor is he responsible to a tenant for injuries to persons or property caused by defects therein, where there has been no reservation on the part of the landlord of any portion of the rented premises. In such cases the law applies to the contract or lease the doctrine of caveat emptor.
Id. at 775 (internal citations omitted).

When a tenant maintains complete control and possession over the premises
and the landlord has no contractual or statutory obligation to repair, the landlord is liable only for “the failure to disclose known latent defects at the time the tenant leases the premises.” Carver v. Howard, 280 S.W.2d 708, 711 (Ky. App. 1955). Only when a portion of the premises is retained by the landlord for the common use and benefit of numerous tenants, the landlord must exercise ordinary care to keep common areas in a reasonably safe condition. Id.

In this case, the defect was not latent. Malapelli testified she was aware of the defective carpet runner for more than two years prior to her fall. She and her boyfriend made repeated attempts to repair the carpet runner. Furthermore, the entirety of the premises was leased by Malapelli, and there were no shared
common areas. Thus, Broaddus did not retain control over a portion of the premises for the common use of numerous tenants. Absent a contractual or statutory duty to repair, Broaddus did not have a duty to repair, or even to remove, the carpet runner.

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