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Landlord’s Duty to Guests of Tenants Expanded by Ohio Supreme Court

Chris Lardiere

There had been confusion and a split of authority in Ohio as to the degree of duty a landlord owes to a guest of a tenant.  That is, until February 12, 2014. On Wednesday the Ohio Supreme Court decided:

MANN, APPELLEE, v. NORTHGATE INVESTORS, L.L.C., D.B.A. NORTHGATE APARTMENTS, APPELLANT. [Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-455.] J. The issue in this case is whether a landlord owes the statutory duty under R.C. 5321.04(A)(3) to “[k]eep all common areas of the premises in a safe and sanitary condition” to a tenant’s guest properly on the premises.  We hold today that a landlord does owe to a tenant’s guest the statutory duties under R.C. 5321.04(A)(3) and that a breach of that duty constitutes negligence per se.

Factual Background:  Mann had to walk down two sets of stairs (with a landing between them) to exit the building.  She testified that the hallway and stairway were dark because it was night and there was no lighting— the existing lighting fixtures were inoperable.  Despite the darkness, she decided to proceed down the stairs.  She successfully descended the two flights of stairs, but after stepping off the last step—and thinking there might be another step—she stumbled forward through a glass panel adjacent to the glass exit door, suffering injuries.

On June 15, 2007, plaintiff-appellee, Lauren Mann, then 16 years old filed suit against Northgate on October 5, 2010, alleging in her complaint that Northgate had “negligently failed to maintain adequate lighting for safe ingress and egress to said premises during nocturnal hours, thereby creating a danger to residents and guests.”

The Supreme Court Conclusion was:  We reaffirm today that a landlord owes to a tenant’s guest the same duty that the landlord owes a tenant.  Thus, a landlord owes a tenant, and therefore the tenant’s guest, the duty to “[k]eep all common areas of the premises in a safe and sanitary condition,” pursuant to R.C. 5321.04(A)(3).  A violation of the duty imposed by R.C. 5321.04(A)(3) constitutes negligence per se and obviates the open-and-obvious-danger doctrine.

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