When land is leased to a tenant, the law of property regards the lease as equivalent to a sale of the premises for the term. The lessee acquires an estate in the land, and becomes for the time being the owner and occupier, subject to all of the responsibilities of one in possession, both to those who enter onto the land and to those outside of its boundaries. That in the absence of agreement to the contrary, the lessor surrenders both possession and control of the land to the lessee, retaining only a reversionary interest; and he has no right even to enter without the permission of the lessee. There is therefore, as a general rule, no liability upon the landlord, either to the tenant or to others entering the land, for defective conditions existing at the time of the lease.
Plaintiff, a social guest of defendant's tenant, slipped and fell on the leased residential premises belonging to defendant. Plaintiff filed suit and claimed that defendant had an obligation to him as a social guest of tenant to repair any known defect on the property. The district court stated that as a matter of law a landlord of a single-family house is under no obligation or duty to a social guest of his tenant to repair or remedy a known condition. On appeal, the court affirmed.
Can defendant be held liable for plaintiff's slip-and-fall injury at his tenant's rental unit?
The court held from the factual circumstances, it could not be established that the defendant was liable on the basis of negligent repairs made by him. It is undisputed that the tenant had full knowledge of the icy condition on the steps created by the absence of guttering. It seems to us that the landlord could reasonably assume that the tenant would inform his guest about the icy condition on the front steps.