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Landlord Tenant Liability for Personal Injuries in Missouri

The general rule in Missouri is that a landlord does not owe a duty to their tenant, and is not liable for personal injuries received by a tenant or by a tenant’s invitee, caused by the dangerous conditions of the premises. Dean v. Gruber, 978 S.W.2d 501, 503 (Mo. App. W.D. 1998).

There are, however, four exceptions to this general rule. Newcomb v. St. Louis Office for Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities Res., 871 S.W. 2d 71, 74 (Mo. App. E.D. 1994). They are:

1.) When the landlord had knowledge of a dangerous condition, which condition is not discoverable by the tenant, and the landlord fails to make disclosure;

The first exception occurs when landlords fail to tell their tenants about a dangerous condition or overtly covers it up. Such situations commonly happen when landlords attempt makeshift solutions to very real problems.

2.) When the injury occurs in a common area;

The second exception is straightforward. Common areas of rental properties or apartment buildings are not designed for the tenant’s exclusive use. The law logically follows that landlords are on the hook for injuries occurring here.

3.) When the landlord is responsible for making repairs, but negligently fails to do so.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the exceptions of the third. Many times, residential leases contain terms that allow the tenant the exclusive right to use and possession of the premises, including the duty to maintain the premises. The language of the lease usually controls in these situations, absolving the landlord from liability, unless the behavior of the parties can be used to establish evidence that the landlord did not grant sole possession to the tenant. A landlord is liable for damages if he “retained a general supervision over the premises for a limited purpose such as the making of repairs or alterations, and the right to enter the premises and make repairs upon his own initiative.” Lemm v. Gould , 425 S.W.2d 190, 195 (Mo. 1968)

"A landlord is under no obligation to a tenant to repair unless there is a contract which creates a duty to repair but when the landlord retains partial control of the property to make repairs, the landlord is obligated to make such repairs and keep the property in a reasonably safe condition for its intended use. Dean v. Gruber, 978 S.W.2d at 503.

The dispositive issue in cases where tenants allege the landlord assumed a duty to make repairs is "whether the landlord did retain control of the particular portion of the premises under consideration. This is because the foundation of the landlord's duty is based upon his retention of control." Id. at 504.

However, "[t]here must be something more—some additional fact or facts from which a jury could infer that under the agreement the tenant gave up and surrendered his right to exclusive possession and control and yielded to the landlord some degree or measure of control and dominion over the premises; some substantial evidence of a sharing of control as between landlord and tenant." Lemm v. Gould , 425 S.W.2d 190, 195 (Mo. 1968).

A landlord is liable for damages if "he retained a general supervision over the premises for a limited purpose such as the making of repairs or alterations, and the right to enter the premises and make repairs upon his own initiative.” Eickhoff v. Gelbach, 611 S.W.3d 834, 839 (Mo. Ct. App. 2020).

4.) Negligence Per Se.

The fourth exception is when the landlord failed to bring the dwelling up to code, or when they specifically failed to bring the part of the property that caused injury up to code. If a plaintiff can prove a violation of a municipal or city ordinance, they will not need to show that the landlord was negligent.

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If you are injured in a rental property, be sure to find out policy information for the landlord and the tenant. Consult with a lawyer to see which policy your claim should be made under.

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