A recent Georgia Court of Appeals case examines the issue of a landlord’s liability for injuries to non-tenants. The case, Forsh v. Williams, 321 Ga. App. 556 (2013), involved a non-tenant injured by a tenant’s dogs. Typical injuries include trip and fall, dog bite cases, and assault and battery by a tenant.
The injured non-tenant alleged a landlord was negligent and reckless in failing to adequately screen his tenants. Failing to enter into an agreement whereby the tenants were not allowed to keep vicious dogs. Failing to adequately inspect the premises. And failing to comply with legal requirements under state and federal law for owners of rental property. The injured party also alleged the landlord failed to keep the premises in repair – as required under OCGA § 44-7-14 – by not installing an appropriate gate on the deck from which the dogs escaped, and failing to install fencing in the yard after knowing of the presence the dogs.
Under Georgia law, to be liable for injuries to third parties, out-of-possession landlords are responsible to third parties for defective construction or failure to keep the premises in repair.
Liability for Injuries to Non-Tenants
OCGA § 44-7-14, entitled “Tort liability of landlord,” provides: “Having fully parted with possession and the right of possession, the landlord is not responsible to third persons for damages resulting from the negligence or illegal use of the premises by the tenant, provided, however, the landlord is responsible for damages arising from defective construction or for damages arising from the failure to keep the premises in repair.”
If the landlord fixes defective construction and keeps the property in repair, the landlord may be immune from claims from non-tenant third parties under OCGA § 44-7-14. However, if the landlord is aware the tenant is creating a hazard. In other words, the injury to the non-tenant is foreseeable to the landlord, a landlord can be held liable.
So what did the court of appeals do? The court mainly focused on procedural issues. Reversing the trial court and finding the landlord was not entitled to an outright dismissal early in the litigation. In favor of the landlord, the court ruled against the injured party on her claim under 42 USCS § 1437 et. seq., commonly referred to as Section 8. The injured non-tenant alleged landlord failed to comply with Housing Quality Standards requiring adequate infrastructure to keep the vicious dogs confined either on the deck, in a suitable fence, or otherwise. The Court of Appeals found this federal statute couldn’t be a basis for liability. And the non-tenant’s claim was limited to OCGA § 44-7-14.
If you have any questions about Georgia landlord liability for injuries, please call us at 404-382-9994. We have over twenty years of experience handling these cases.