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Court of Appeals rules that landlord has "transferred" his statutory liability to maintain premises to tenant

In a case out of Mackinac County, the Court of Appeals issued a surprising opinion last week.  Judges Whitbeck, Wilder and Sawyer held that a women who fell and broke an ankle on an allegedly unsafe set of stairs could not sue the landlord, even though a Michigan statute requires the landlord to "keep the premises in reasonable repair...[and] fit for the use intended..."  The latter statute provides that in leases for a period exceeding one year, the obligation to maintain the premises may be modified by the parties.  In the Sandra Rickley Garneau v. Samuel R. Noon, et al., case, the Court suggested that because Garneau's son had performed "extensive   repair work" to the home during the period of the tenancy, it was a reasonable  "conclusion" that the landlord's duty had been transferred to the tenant---even though there was no documentation of that transfer. 

The Court also held that Garneau's claim must be dismissed because the tenants failed to allege that they had noticed the alleged defects or brought them to the landlord's attention prior to the injury.   The judges observed that despite the legal duty explicitly set forth in the statute, prior decisions have excluded from the landlord's "duty of reasonable repair" any duty to inspect the premises on a timely basis or to repair conditions of which the landlord claimed to be unaware.

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