Mt. Bachelor Property Management Blog

Landlord Liability: Issues, Solutions and Best Practices

Lisa Berg - Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Learn about landlord liability issues & best practices in Oregon from Mt. Bachelor Property Management. They offer a full range of property management services.

For those entering the investment property and landlord field, liability is a common concern. Investors want to know just what a landlord is responsible for, and what they need to do to minimize fines, lawsuits, and other problems.

Landlord liability depends on a combination of a state’s rental laws/fair housing laws, plus the nuts and bolts of the lease itself. It’s also affected, to a certain extent, by case law – which means it’s a good idea to keep an eye on current landlord best practices. Our guide is a great place to start: We’re going over the most important landlord liability issues you should know about, why they exist, and how you can avoid any problems.

Common Landlord Liability Issues


These are liability issues that are more frequent, and usually clearly outlined in leases. However, they are still important to consider and can lead to major problems if ignored. Tenants are also aware of these requirements.

1. Not Making Improvements or Repairs

Landlords have a general duty to repair or maintain their properties. A lease typically assigns some basic maintenance tasks to the tenant, but broadly speaking maintenance – and especially repairs – are the landlord’s job. If there are important repairs or maintenance work that needs to be done, the landlord should alert the tenant (preferably in writing) that they are aware of the issue and make plans to deal with it quickly. Landlords have a legal obligation to keep the leased premises in a “habitable” condition, which also means speedily addressing issues with heating, plumbing, gas, electricity, roof leaks, and similar problems. A landlord's failure to address maintenance and repairs can cause conflict with tenants and even a lawsuit if an injury occurred from unsafe conditions. 

2. Ignoring the Potential of Tenant Injuries

What happens when important maintenance and repairs aren’t completed? This can create hazards on the rental property that could lead to tenant injuries. That can set up cause for a lawsuit that no landlord wants to deal with, especially if the accident was clearly caused by negligence. This is another reason to arrange for repairs ASAP, particularly implementing safety measures for danger zones like broken stairs or steps.

3. Avoiding Important Security Measures

Landlords also have an obligation to provide a safe environment and should take steps to prevent foreseeable issues. Part of this means making sure locks work and installing basic security systems, exterior lights, and so on. It means protecting neighbors and tenants themselves from any illegal activity that might occur on the property. Yes, in some cases landlords can be held liable for the criminal activity of a tenant, including neighbors suing the landlord for allowing a public nuisance.

There are several steps landlords can take to reduce this liability. The first is to vet tenants with processes like a basic background check to help reduce the likely of future problems with tenants. The second is to periodically check up on a property and report any likely criminal activity to law enforcement.

4. Not Dealing with a Disaster

Disasters include things like fires, floods, and earthquakes that may affect the rental property. In these situations, landlords are not responsible for any of the tenant’s belongings. However, they are responsible for the unit itself, which includes making repairs or terminating the lease if the property is no longer habitable.

This is also another reason why maintenance is important. Keeping gutters clean of pine needles and trimming back trees and shrubs are important fire prevention measures, and negligence here can lead to a lawsuit if a fire claims tenants’ belongings.

5. Not Having the Property Vacant On the Move-In Date

Once a new lease is signed, the landlord has an obligation to make sure the property is vacant on the move-in date. It’s important to make all necessary arrangements before signing on another tenant. That includes wrapping up any ongoing evictions processes (don’t assume a set-in-stone timeline for an eviction), cleaning the rental unit, getting the locks changed, and so on.

Landlord Liability Risks That May Surprise You

There are also other risks that landlords may not know about, but which can cause significant legal headaches if not addressed. These liability issues are particularly important if you are renting out a residential property that has been rented or lived in previously. A competent rental lease should reference these issues when necessary and lay the groundwork to prevent them from becoming problems in the future.

1. Not Addressing Pet Problems

Landlords have the option to choose whether to allow pets in a rental. Typically, this choice focuses on tenant responsibility, and the risks of a pet biting the walls or peeing on the floor, causing serious damage. But landlords should also know they could be held responsible if a tenant’s pet attacks and injures someone else. Property owners may share liability, such as medical expenses, in these cases if they were aware that the pet was dangerous (had received complaints from neighbors that the dog bites, for example), but did not take steps to have the pet removed.

2. Smoking Issues

Landlords are required to disclose their smoking policies to any potential tenants in Oregon. Smoking inside a rental can cause a buildup of stains, smoke damage, and lingering odors that can affect tenant health. Additionally, neighbors or other tenants have been known to sue for secondhand smoke issues. This is why many landlords simply ban smoking to reduce liability and avoid health-related issues.

3. Harm Caused by Employees or Contractors

The landlord also bears some responsibility for the people they hire to take care of rentals. If an employee or contractor hired by the landlord causes damage to tenant belongings, physical injury to a tenant, or conducts criminal activity on the rental property, then the landlord could be liable as a result. As with tenants, landlords should carefully screen the people they hire. Services like Mt. Bachelor Property Management can help with background checks, and vet any professional contractors that we use in the area.

4. Discrimination

Laws ban landlords themselves from discriminating against tenants. Tenants can file discrimination claims if they believe that they were denied a rental because of factors like their skin color, religion, sex or sexual orientation, and much more. Therefore, landlords should avoid any potential appearance of discrimination (and have the relevant insurance to cover lawsuit issues). Occasionally, landlords have also been found liable if a tenant discriminates against someone else, such as in a subleasing arrangement.

Tips on Working with Landlord Liability Laws


  • Keep excellent records. That includes a log of every tenant complaint and request, along with details and the date, as well as any emails or other notifications that tenants have sent you. There are plenty of apps and online tools that can help with these records, from basics like Evernote to more advanced software for landlords. Property management companies like Mt. Bachelor can also handle tenant complaints and these kinds of records if you prefer not to worry about it.
  • Check with your insurance provider about your current insurance policy. There are several property insurance riders that are designed to act as landlord insurance. That includes personal liability insurance specifically made for landlord-related lawsuits, insurance to cover repairing properties, and insurance to cover rentals affected by natural disasters – and even insurance coverage if things get nasty and there are issues with libel or slander.
  • Make accommodations for disabled tenants. Not all landlords know this, but it’s covered under the Fair Housing Acts. Public areas like the office you use must be accessible by wheelchair. If it doesn’t involve structural changes, landlords also need to offer disabled tenants equal opportunity to enjoy the rental property. That could include making sure there’s an accessible parking space set aside for them or allowing a service animal. Disabled tenants are often allowed to modify rental units at their own expense for reasonable modifications like a wheelchair ramp or more accessible cabinets.
  • Be proactive with tenants. Some landlords even post biannual requests for tenants to report any unaddressed concerns so nothing escapes notice. Tenants don’t always report problems that could be dangerous or lead to lawsuits. Sometimes it’s better to ask.
  • Contact a property attorney for legal advice when you are drawing up your lease. This is an excellent way to help prevent future liability issues. Even one session of legal counsel can help seal any loopholes or spot any omissions in a lease.
  • Contacting an attorney is also a good idea if you ever hear that a tenant is considering legal action against you (try to avoid talking directly to the tenant until you have talked to a lawyer in these cases). You may also want to contact an attorney if you are beginning the process of evicting a tenant, which can open additional liability issues of its own for less experienced landlords.

Partnering with Mt. Bachelor Property Management


Are you interested in arranging to rent a property in Central Oregon? Our property management services can help you ensure your rental is safe and maintained. That’s especially important if you can’t always be in town to take care of damage or emergencies yourself. Our experienced team can help arrange everything from repairs to winterization steps, helping to prevent a landlord's liability issues. We can also help you handle evictions and make the best choices about local tenants. As far as our policy, we require a million-dollar landlord policy, which is often a $500,000 landlord policy combined with an umbrella policy on the home. Contact us to learn more about our property management services, how we can help market your rental, and much more.  

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