Residential landlords are all too used to learning of new laws or court decisions that expand their liabilities and/or make life more difficult. It is a pleasure, then, to report on a California appellate decision that affirms a limit on landlord liability and rejects a claim as to landlord duty. Garcia v. Holt, Fourth Appellate District, Oct. 27, 2015)
In October of 2005, the Mamertos (Michelle Mamerto was Michel Holt at
the time the complaint was filed) leased their Escondido property to
George Jakubec. The lease was for one year. At the end of the year, the
lease became a month-to-month rental.
In 2005, the Mamertos hired Mario Garcia to maintain the landscaping
of the subject property. He or his employees worked on the premises at
least once every two weeks throughout the five years leading up to the
incident that triggered this lawsuit.
According to the court record, "On November 18, 2010, Mario was
injured when he walked over unstable explosive material on the backside
of the Premises and the material exploded under him." Apparently, the
tenant, Jakubec, had been creating and storing explosives on the
property. Neither the owners, the Mamertos, nor Garcia and his employees
were aware of this.
The Appellate Court summarized the proceedings that followed:
"The Garcia's sued for premises liability alleging the Mamertos were
negligent in the maintenance of the Premises by allowing explosive
materials to be kept on the Premises. The Mamertos moved for summary
judgment [essentially, dismissal] arguing they owed no duty to Mario
because they had no actual or constructive knowledge of the explosive
materials on the Premises, thus there was no foreseeable risk requiring
"In opposition, the Garcia's argued the Mamertos had a duty to
exercise reasonable care to inspect the Premises periodically once the
lease became a month-to-month tenancy. The Garcia's further argued there
was a triable issue of material fact as to whether the Mamertos breached
"The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Mamertos on
the ground the Mamertos owed no duty to the Garcia's absent actual
knowledge of a dangerous condition on the Premises. The court ruled,
‘before liability may be thrust on a landlord for a third party's injury
due to a dangerous condition on the land, [a plaintiff] must show that
the landlord had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition in
question, plus the right and ability to cure the condition."
The Garcia's appealed. They contended that when the lease became
month-to-month then the Mamertos had a right to periodically enter the
premises. With that right, they argued, the Mamertos has a corresponding
duty to make "reasonable periodic inspections and they should have
discovered the dangerous conditions."
The Appellate Court disagreed. They asserted that "the obligation to
inspect arises ‘only if [the landowner] had some reason to know there
was a need for such action.'"
Moreover, the court stated, "Public policy precludes landlord
liability for a dangerous condition of the premises which came into
existence after possession has passed to a tenant." "This is based on
the principle that the landlord has surrendered possession and control
of the land to the tenant and has no right even to enter without
"Where a landlord has relinquished control of property to a tenant, a
‘bright line' rule has developed to moderate the landlord's duty of
care owed to a third party injured on the property as compared with the
tenant who enjoys possession and control."
In short: You want to sue someone? Sue the tenant.
on Tuesday, 14 June 2016 3:55 pm