Washington Case Law Update: Court Rules that Implied Warranty of Habitability Does Not Extend to Tenant’s Guest

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Washington Case Law Update: Court Rules that Implied Warranty of Habitability Does Not Extend to Tenant’s Guest

From the desk of Kyle D. Riley: Under common law in Washington, landowners may be liable for failure to maintain a safe and habitable premises.  But where the landlord owns a house that is occupied by a tenant, does the landlord owe a duty to exercise reasonable care so to ensure the deck does not pose an unreasonable risk of harm to the tenant’s guests? Read on to find out.

Claims Pointer: In this premises liability suit, the Washington Court of Appeals determined that because the deck was not a common area, the landlord was not deemed to be a possessor, and as such, did not owe the tenant’s guest a duty to maintain the deck in a reasonably safe condition.  The court also held that the implied warranty of habitability extends only to tenants and has not been adopted in the context of the tenant’s guests and other entrants.  This case identifies a critical difference between the duty a landlord owes to tenants and the duty they owe to guests of tenants.

Just as Donna Phillips (hereinafter “Plaintiff”) left her boyfriend’s home, she realized that she had forgotten her cell phone.  Plaintiff walked to the back of the house but when she placed her foot on the step leading to the deck, the step broke, causing her leg to fall through the broken step.  Kathleen Greco (hereinafter “Defendant”) owned the house, and rented the main house to Plaintiff’s boyfriend and his roommate.  The house also contained a mother-in-law unit, which was rented by different tenants under a separate lease agreement.  Plaintiff’s boyfriend and his roommate had exclusive access to the deck, and tenants of the mother-in-law unit did not have access to the deck.  As a result of injuries stemming from the fall, Plaintiff filed suit against the landlord.  Defendant responded with a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted.  Plaintiff...

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