Owners and landlords can avoid tenant problems due to property slip and fall injuries during icy conditions by being clear on who is responsible for maintenance. Take these steps to prevent costly litigation.

This is the time of year where there is plenty of ice, and often ice hidden under a layer of snow. If you have rental property, who is responsible if your tenant slips and falls going from the front door to the street? That is certainly your property, but was it your responsibility to shovel the snow or mitigate ice?

In this situation, your liability will depend largely on what is contained in your lease with the tenant. If the lease says that you provide snow removal, you may be liable. If it is specified to be the responsibility of the tenant, you likely will not be held responsible.

Of course there are a variety of variables that can occur. Let’s say there is a foreign substance on the exterior stairs causing the tenant to slip and fall. You have no idea when or how a foreign substance may have gotten on the stairs, and its not your obligation to clean it up. You would likely not be found at fault. However, if the stairs are defective in some way, such as loose treads or a leaky downspout causing constant ice build-up on the stairs, there may be a case against you, especially is the tenant alerted you to the problem.

The best defense is a good offence. Keep your rental property well maintained, and spell out in the lease who is responsible for what. Do regular inspections, rather than waiting for tenants to update you on maintenance issues. If you are handy, check for things such as loose handrails, rotten stair treads and leaky gutters, or hire a property management contractor to do an inspection each fall.

If a legal claim is filed, contact an attorney that specializes in property claims.

Stay safe and warm out there during the cold weather season, and with a little diligence, hopefully avoid costly tenant claims.

Your real estate agent is the best source of information about the local community and real estate topics. Call Tom Verhelst at 218-205-2604 | Karen Zell at 218-731-6836 to learn more about local areas, discuss selling a house, or tour available homes for sale.

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