Landlord Liability and Michigan Personal Injury Cases
Michigan premises law, which includes slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall cases, is different for renters than other situations. Tenants have special protections under the law in personal injury cases that non-tenants do not enjoy.
For example, the owner of a strip mall has a duty to use reasonable care to protect guests and customers from unreasonable risk of harm posed by dangerous conditions on the land. But if the danger is open and obvious – meaning it is readily apparent to a reasonable person upon casual inspection – the landowner has no duty to warn or remove this danger.
However, this “open and obvious” rule does not always apply to renters. Instead, landlords have a duty to their tenants under MCL 554.139. That statute is the following:
MCL 554.139 provides:
(1) In every lease or license of residential premises, the lessor or licensor covenants:
(a) That the premises and all common areas are fit for the use intended by the parties.
(b) To keep the premises in reasonable repair during the term of the lease or license, and to comply with the applicable health and safety laws of the state and of the local unit of government where the premises are located, except when the disrepair or violation of the applicable health or safety laws has been caused by the tenant’s willful or irresponsible conduct or lack of conduct.
This statute was analyzed in Allison v. AEW Capital Management, LLC, 481 Mich. 419; 751 N.W.2d 8 (2008). The Michigan Supreme Court held that in this case, the renter did not get the protections provided under MCL 554.139 and allowed the landlord to escape all liability for not plowing or removing the snow from the complex’s parking lot.
Facts of the Case:
The plaintiff was a tenant at an apartment complex. He fractured his ankle during a fall when he was walking on one to two inches of snow in the parking lot of his apartment complex. He then noticed ice on the ground where the snow had been moved. He filed a lawsuit against his landlord, alleging the landlord was negligent and failed to maintain and repair the premises in violation of MCL 554.139(1).
The defendant landlord filed a motion with the trial court asking the judge to dismiss the plaintiff’s case. The trial court granted defendant’s motion. The renter appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals. This court reversed, holding that a parking lot constitute a common area under MCL 554.139(1)(a), that one of a parking lot’s intended use includes people walking on it, and that a parking and that a parking lot with is not fit for that purpose. The defendant landlord then appealed this ruling to the Michigan Supreme Court.
The Michigan Supreme Court held that the intended use of a parking lot is parking vehicles, and that one to two inches of snow did not interfere enough with this intended use.
In reaching this decision, the Court looked at the different sections of MCL 554.139.
First the Court analyzed the term “common area.” The Court found that a parking lot at an apartment complex is a common area because it can be used by two or more different tenants. Although the parking lot was outside the building, it was no different than a lobby, stairwell or elevator.
Landlord’s Duty Under MCL 554.139(1)(a):
Next the Court evaluated a landlord’s duty under MCL 554.139(1)(a). The Court held that although the landlord has a contractual duty to keep the parking lot “fit for the use intended by the parties,” the landlord did not also have a duty to keep the parking lot free from the natural accumulation of snow and ice.
In making this ruling, the Court found that a landlord has a duty to keep a parking lot suited for the parking of vehicles. And this occurs so long as tenants can park their vehicles in the lot and have reasonable access to their vehicles. Regarding snow and ice, so long as tenants have reasonable access to their parking vehicles, the landlord has fulfilled this obligation.
In this case, the facts showed there was two inches of snow covering the parking lot. Under this scenario, the Court believed tenants were able to enter and exit the parking lot, to park their vehicles and access those vehicles. As such, the plaintiff had not established that tenants were unable to use the parking lot for its intended purpose.
The Court went on to say:
While a lessor may have some duty under MCL 554.139(1)(a) with regard to the accumulation of snow and ice in a parking lot, it would be triggered only under much more exigent circumstances than those obtaining in this case. The statute does not require a lessor to maintain a lot in an ideal condition or in the most accessible condition possible, but merely requires the lessor to maintain it in a condition that renders it fit for use as a parking lot. Mere inconvenience of access, or the need to remove snow and ice from parked cars, will not defeat the characterization of a lot as being fit for its intended purposes.
The Court did not define or provide any clues on what “exigent circumstances” would lead to making a parking lot not fit for its intended use.
Landlord’s Duty Under MCL 554.139(1)(b):
The Court next analyzed the plaintiff’s lawsuit under MCL 554.139(1)(b) and found that this part of the statute did not apply. Section (1)(b) refers to the premises and keeping the premises in reasonable repair. According to the Michigan Supreme Court, a premises refers to “a building or part of a building together with its ground or other appurtenances.” But because this section did not include the term “common areas” like it did Section (1)(a), it held in this context “premises” does not encompass “common areas” and that the covenant to repair under MCL 554.139(1)(b) does not apply to common areas.
Applied to this case, the Court found that the accumulation of ice and snow did not constitute a defect in the property and the landlord had no duty under MCL 554.139(1)(b) to remove or remediate the snow. Because the landlord had no duty, the plaintiff could not go forward with a claim for negligence against the landlord for his injuries.
The Court’s final holding was a total win for landlords.
We hold that: (1) parking lots in leased residential areas constitute “common areas” under MCL 554.139(1)(a); (2) the natural accumulation of snow and ice is subject to the lessor’s duty established in MCL 554.139(1)(a), but that plaintiff has not shown the duty was violated here because the parking lot was apparently “fit for the use intended by the parties”; and (3) the natural accumulation of snow and ice is not subject to the lessor’s duty established in MCL 554.139(1)(b).
Result of the Case:
Landlords, property managers and insurance companies have since used Allison to dismiss countless personal injury cases filed by tenants across Michigan. Any situation that involves a fall in a common area, whether it’s a parking lot or a lobby, can result in an “Allison motion” where the landlord tries to have the case dismissed. Experienced and knowledgeable landlord-tenant lawyers who handle personal injury cases are aware of this. A competent Michigan rental lawyer can help navigate this process and get compensation for an injured person following a slip-and-fall.