The news is unfortunately filled with incidences of violence in public places, and many commercial landlords are wondering if they can be held liable for negligence for public disturbances and destruction of property that may occur at their rental. As with all questions of law, the answer is that it depends.
The good news for landlords is that generally they cannot be held liable. In the case of Cole v. T&G Flying Club, 1996 Ohio App. LEXIS 5530, the Court found that “In Ohio, the commercial lessor’s liability is governed by traditional common law principles. Under common law, one having neither possession nor control of premises is ordinarily not liable for damages resulting from the condition of the premises. The lessor who does not retain the right to admit or exclude others from the premises has generally not reserved the degree of possession or control necessary to impose liability for the condition of the premises.”
Further, in order for someone to be held liable for negligence, the Court in Cole stated that that person must have “intended the injury or knew that the injury was substantially certain to occur and . . . proceeded to act, despite that knowledge.” As the landlord has typically ceded control of the premises, it would be hard to show that the landlord would be liable for an injury that has occurred.
However, as in all cases, there are exceptions. The Court in Cole, citing the Court in Davis v. Eastwood Mall, Inc. (Dec. 14, 1990), 1990 Ohio App. LEXIS 5541, stated that “a landlord out of possession and control may be held responsible for damages caused by defective premises only if special circumstances are shown which establish a particular duty on the part of the owner.“
The Court in Odom v. Davis, 2003 Ohio 3316, found that these special circumstances could be “concealment or failure to disclose known, non-obvious latent defects, failure to perform a covenant of repair; breach of statutory duty and negligent performance of a contractual or statutory duty to repair.” Therefore, commercial landlords can reduce their risk exposure by understanding and remaining in compliance with their contractual and statutory duties as well as any duty to repair. This may require a review and revision of your current lease to ensure the landlord is protected.