Landlords and property managers are starting to get sued over COVID-19 infections.
So how do you protect yourself and your assets from coronavirus-related lawsuits? For that matter, how do you prevent outbreaks among your tenants in the first place?
Brian and Deni sit down to talk COVID-related lawsuits and what landlords and real estate investors need to know to avoid being taken to court by litigious tenants, contractors, and other visitors to your rental properties.
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Brian Davis: Hi everyone, Brian & Deni here from Spark Rental. So last week we talked all about Real Estate Contingencies when you make offers, what they are, how they work, and why you should be including them in your contract offers. This week we are back to talking about COVID and the pandemic. I know you guys are sick of hearing about it. We’re sick of talking about it. We’re sick of hearing about it too. But, as this second wave gets worse and again, continues rising. We wanted to talk about the legal liability that landlords and property managers face. Because there have been some lawsuits introduced around the country. We do live in a litigious society here. And landlords, in particular, are very vulnerable to lawsuits. Not just during the pandemic.
Landlords get vilified all the time, and people love to Sue them. Deni let’s jump right in. And by the way, as you guys join us, let us know where you’re joining from. We’d love to hear that and have a dialogue with you. Send your questions our way. This is broadcast live. Deni, what are some of the legal issues that landlords could face due to COVID-19?
Deni Supplee: Well, I think that the biggest thing that any business or anything, anyone faces is because of you, somebody gets it. Landlords are going to be around people. Because you’re showing apartments or you’re going to have maintenance technicians go in. There are inspections, whatever other reason there is to be inside of the rental unit while another person is there. Those are all kinds of potential liabilities, where a tenant could say, I was fine. I stayed in my apartment. I didn’t go out. But as soon as this happened, I got COVID. Cases are surrounding the travel, sector, and there’s a ton of cases and unemployment. Landlords. Like Brian said people, like to Sue landlords. We are not exempt; it’s going to hit us. Not to mention common areas, that’s a whole other. Even if you have a duplex. and you think, “Oh, I don’t manage a large complex with elevators and the whole nine yards.” But if you have a duplex, you still have common areas in that duplex, the hallways, and the laundry room. There’s potential liability there as well.
Brian Davis: Absolutely. What can landlords and property managers do to limit their legal liability here? To protect from COVID related lawsuits?
Deni Supplee: Well, put your beliefs aside, whether you believe in mask-wearing or not. It has nothing to do with this, it’s protecting yourself. Let’s face it, do you want to get sued? Do you want to lose your property, your investment? For some of these CDC guidelines, at least show that you’re going above and beyond to ensure the safety of your tenants, your maintenance people, and whoever. And to do that, you want to, enforce mask-wearing and social distancing. If you have common areas put up a couple of things. For maybe $20 or $30 throw up the hand sanitizer stations and make sure that you’re filling them. Another thing is, for maintenance people, or if you’re going to show an apartment, have people fill out a health assessment. There are some places you can’t even walk into without them swiping your temperature now. Or they’re asking, “have you been around anyone who has been affected?” So why not do that yourself to protect yourself in all of this?
Brian Davis: Right? And we do have a Free Sample Health Assessment Questionnaire that landlords can download and use. This is just a basic form. Think of it more as a sample than anything else. But I’ve added a link to that in the comments that you can download as well.
Deni Supplee: And if you’re doing this and you’re putting it aside and somebody comes back and says to you, “so-and-so didn’t do anything.” You can say, well, I did ask the questions. I did have the mask on. So, you’re protecting yourself, you’re covering your butt, as we say. It’s really CYA.
Brian Davis: With legal protection, it’s worth pointing out that anyone can sue anyone else, at any time, for any reason. So, when you are preventing that as a landlord, you’re not preventing lawsuits from coming. You are creating a defense that you can take before a judge; before anyone ever sues you and say, “here are all of the things that I did to protect our tenants and our workers and everyone else.” You’re trying to build that case pre-emptively.
Deni Supplee: Right
Brian Davis: To protect yourself. You can’t prevent lawsuits from coming, but you can take the steps to prevent losing lawsuits.
Deni Supplee: Definitely. I mean, even with evictions and stuff, you do that. You document everything and you want to cover yourself. So that when you go to court, everything is lined up. And if you don’t go out of your way to make sure that you’re following your state’s guidelines. Then you could end up, open and vulnerable to a lawsuit, or losing a lawsuit.
Brian Davis: Right.Now. What about waivers and having tenants sign waivers? Does that work? What do landlords need to know about that?
Deni Supplee: Waivers are just like an extra cover, so they can’t hurt. But they probably would help if you ensure that you’re doing all these things. And if you have your tenants or somebody, you’re showing an apartment or your maintenance men or, whoever. If you have them sign a waiver or even put something at this point in new leases. And if you can get current tenants, to sign something that protects yourself and says that, if you get COVID, indemnified, pretty much. You can’t come after me and this type of thing. Now, will it hold up in court? Nobody knows, but there are times. I recently heard of a case where one of those places where you take your kids to jump on the little- I’ve taken my grandkids there.
Brian Davis: The trampolines.
Deni Supplee: Yeah. And they were like all over. And some kids got hurt because other kids were being wild. And they tried to sue. But in the very beginning, there was a liability waiver. They still lost, but it still gives a little bit of extra protection. Because you don’t know, it could help you not lose, which is the name of the game.
Brian Davis: Right. Every bit, every little bit helps to CYA.
Deni Supplee: Right. Absolutely.
Brian Davis: Now can landlords limit their tenants’ visitors? Is that within their legal rights? Can they do it? Should they do it? Did you know about that?
Deni Supplee: Landlords can definitely limit parties; we’ve seen it done. I mean, you can’t have gatherings of more than whatever. And leases so that we don’t have loud noises and whatnot. There is that in a lease that you can definitely use to help. Now, can you say that you can’t have any more than four people in your home? I don’t think. I think that would be challenged. But I think that you can suggest things. And I think the more that you suggest within reason, the more again that you’re covering yourself. If you are trying to limit the amount of people in one apartment, and they don’t listen, and then somebody gets it. It still covers your butt because you tried.
Brian Davis: That makes, makes total sense. By the way, we added a link in the comments here to a Sample COVID Waiver that landlords can have their tenant sign.
Deni Supplee: And you definitely want to have an attorney look at this. But if you want to include it in a lease, it might be an extra. We’re in a different world now. And we all say 2020, but the likelihood is it could go into 2021. And who knows if something like this, isn’t going to come down the pike again. So why not have something in your leases, that’s going to protect you, just in case?
Brian Davis: Absolutely. Well, are there any other ways that landlords can protect themselves from lawsuits or protect their tenants from exposure? Any final thoughts here?
Deni Supplee: I definitely think that we got to do a couple of different things. You don’t want to hide your head in the sand. Keep an eye on what’s going on, especially your state. New York has got already some cases or a case that I definitely saw. But I think there’s going to be more.
Brian Davis: Lawsuits
Deni Supplee: Lawsuits. Yes. You want to make sure that you’re keeping an eye on these things because knowledge is power at this point. And you don’t want to put your head in the sand. There will be precedents coming up. We’re going to see legal precedents coming up, out of this, and in all sectors. So, get knowledgeable on this, have a plan, definitely. And, and make sure your plan is used all around. The same for everyone, so that you don’t face a discrimination issue either. So that’s another thing. Put the sanitation things around, be an extra. Give some of your tenants, some sanitizer to be nice. It’s the stupid little things like that. Make sure that you know about the privacy laws. You can’t divulge. If a tenant tells you, unless they say I don’t care, but even then, I would be careful. You don’t want to say.
Brian Davis: You can’t say that.
Deni Supplee: No. Don’t say, “the tenant Billy has COVID.” You got to be careful with that too. And, be very careful to keep personal, political, whatever views out of this, because the number one thing is protecting your renters, which is protecting your property.
Brian Davis: Right? Absolutely. And we do have a question here from, Christina Colin, who asked if we have a link to the news about the New York COVID lawsuit against the landlord.
Deni Supplee: I will get that for you, Christina, if you could send your, email to [email protected] It’s, not a full-blown case yet, but it’s a case in the making. And it was basically against the landlord for being negligent in taking precautions. So, I will send that to you.
Brian Davis: All right, Deni, any final thoughts about how landlords can protect themselves and their properties, legally against lawsuits from tenants here?
Deni Supplee: No, I think just pretty much what we went over. CYA, say it over and over.
Deni Supplee: Absolutely.
Brian Davis: Alright.Deni thanks for sharing that with us today and in a scary time. Stay safe everyone.And send us your tip or your comments on what you want to hear about next Tuesday. We’ll try to talk about what is most important to you as a real estate investor. As a landlord, have a great week.
Deni Supplee: See you later, everyone.