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Judge Saad describes his understanding of landlord's duty: never a recovery for an injured tenant

In a case where none of the three judges could agree on how to apply Michigan Supreme Court-created law, the Court of Appeals recently held that a tenant could not sue his landlord for failing to correct a condition that created icy apartment steps.  Thomas Magyar sued his landlords, Michael and Diane Barnes in Saginaw Circuit Court after he fell on the steps and suffered injury.  He claimed that the landlords had failed and refused to install eaves troughs to divert roof run-off that froze on the steps creating a hazard.

In Judge Saad's opinion, since the landlords "had the foresight" to delegate to the tenants the landlords' duty to clean ice and snow from the stairs, they could not be responsible for negligently failing to correct the run-off condition.  Judge Saad acknowledged that under prior cases, the existence of ice interferes with the safe use of a stairway.  Nevertheless, he would hold that the statutory duty of landlords to assure that premises are reasonably safe does not apply if some component of that duty has been delegated to the tenant.  He further would hold that despite the fact that "the parties did not present evidence about whether the ice was visible on casual inspection"  the condition was an "open and obvious danger" simply because the fall occurred in February "a few days after a significant snowstorm" and snow remained on the ground.  In essence, some excuse can be found to immunize the insurance company and obviate the landlord's duty, in Judge Saad's analysis...regardless of the evidence.

The parties also disagreed about whether the condition could be a "nuisance" and therby render the landlord responsible.  One judge argued that it could and should; one argued that it could, but didn't in this case; and one (Judge Saad, of course) argued that a landlord can never be responsible for an ice-creating hazardous nuisance condition that injures a tenant, provided the tenant has agreed to remove ice and snow. 

So, if you thought that a law requiring landlords to make common areas reasonably safe, which is to be generously construed to fulfill its purpose, would make a landlord responsible for maintaining a dark, eave-less icy hazard, you'd be wrong:  at least in Michigan.  In Michigan, with our current special-interest-influenced legislators and judges, the desires of insurance companies always trump public policy.

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