Landlord's statutory duties to maintain property aren't applicable to injury cases?
Monica Martin fell and injured herself at her apartment after tripping over defective floor tiling at the top of a flight of stairs. Under state law, apartment owners are required to "keep [rental] premises in reasonable repair" and to comply with health and safety laws. Martin cited the violation of this and related laws by The Fourmidable Group, Inc., as a foundation for her lawsuit against the lessor for negligence. No one contested the defective condition of the tile. Nevertheless, the Court summarily dismissed her claim and she appealed.
The Court of Appeals held that the above statutes create only "contract" rights in the tenant and do not create any duty by the landlord that may be relied on by an injury victim. The Court also held that even though the pertinent laws speak in terms of "owner or agent thereof," the duties created are not a duty of any agent, but only of the owner.
Ultimately, and not surprisingly, the judges upheld the summary dismissal of Ms. Martin's injury claim. This result was virtually dictated by prior decisions of the Republican "Engler Majority" of the Michigan Supreme Court. These Justices, hand-selected by the Republican party to please the Chamber of Commerce and insurance interests, have held that stairs are an obvious danger and that a landlord owes no duty to repair any hazard that is "open and obvious" unless it poses a "special hazard" [the court used a "thirty foot pit" as an example].
Apparently we have no public policy that would require landlords to protect tenants by making necessary and appropriate repairs--even if they create hazards at the top of a flight of stairs that an elderly tenant might need to traverse "hundreds of times."