The Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, the State’s highest court, recently issued a decision on the liability of landlords in Maine premises liability cases. The issue before the court was whether reserving access to the premises for inspections and repairs created a dispute about whether the landlords had exclusive control over the premises.
In that case, a woman was visiting her daughter and son-in-law at a house they were renting. She was going down the stairs in the house and fell off the landing at the bottom of the stairs. The landing step was eleven inches tall, which was taller than the rest of the stairs on the staircase, and did not comply with the applicable building codes. The woman filed a premises liability lawsuit against the landlords alleging that they were liable for the injuries she suffered due to the fall.
Under Maine premises liability law, a landlord is liable for injuries caused by a dangerous condition on property under a tenant’s exclusive control if the landlord: 1) fails to disclose to the tenant the existence of a latent defect that a landlord knows or should have known existed and which the tenant did not know of and should not have reasonably discovered; 2) gratuitously undertakes to make repairs and negligently completes the repairs; or 3) expressly agrees to maintain the premises in good repair. A landlord is liable for injuries to the tenant, as well as the tenant’s guests and others on the premises with the tenant’s consent. Exclusive control generally refers to the power over the premises that a landlord reserves according to the terms of the lease.