Accidents happen, especially when winter brings snow and ice—but when accidents happen in a rented property, the question of who is responsible for clearing walkways, pathways, and exits can have serious financial implications for rental property owners.
What the Law Says About Landlords’ Snow Removal Responsibilities
The Code of Massachusetts Regulations states, with regard to what constitutes a property in “Safe Condition” that:
“The owner shall maintain all means of egress at all times in a safe, operable condition and shall keep all exterior stairways, fire escapes, egress balconies and bridges free of snow and ice, provided, however, in those instances where a dwelling has an independent means of egress, not shared with other occupants, and a written letting agreement so states, the occupant is responsible for maintaining free of snow and ice, the means of egress under his or her exclusive use and control. All corrodible structural parts thereof shall be kept painted or otherwise protected against rust and corrosion. All wood structural members shall be treated to prevent rotting and decay. Where these structural elements tie directly into the building structural system, all joints shall be sealed to prevent water from damaging or corroding the structural elements. (105 CMR 410.452)”
This regulation establishes that landlords are responsible for maintaining clear and safe means of egress from a multiunit property (such as a triple-decker or mid-rise building), while tenants living in single-exit properties (such as a freestanding house) are responsible for shoveling walkways and stairs. Landlords of any property, however, are responsible for weatherproofing and otherwise maintaining the structural integrity of exits; if a porch roof or exterior staircase collapsed under the weight of snow because of poor maintenance and a failure to remove the snow, the landlord may be held liable for any injuries incurred.
Goreham v. Martins: A Recent Test of Landlord Liability
The 2020 appeals case of Goreham v. Martins is a notable and relatively recent precedent in slip, trip, and fall liability on rented premises. The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that a tenant who was injured after slipping on an icy driveway could not recover damages against his landlord because he was more comparatively negligent in causing the injury than the landlord. The SJC also rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the landlord breached the warranty of habitability (the legal requirement to provide a living space fit for human beings) on two grounds: first, the tenant was already suing on the grounds of negligence; second, that the warranty of habitability normally apply only to the unit itself and not an exterior common area. The court also ruled that the tenant could not sue for breach of quiet enjoyment because the injury did not in itself prevent the tenant from peaceably living in the unit
Facing a Tortious Tenant? Call Us Today
If you are facing a personal injury lawsuit brought by a current or former tenant, you need skilled legal representation to protect the investment you have made in your properties. Call our office today to discuss your unique concerns.