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LANDLORD NOT LIABLE FOR DECK COLLAPSE AT RENTAL HOME

In Aldredge v. Byrd, No. A17A0281, 2017 WL 1180469 (Ga. Ct. App. Mar. 30, 2017) the Georgia Court of Appeals held that a landlord was not liable for the collapse of a deck on his rental property.  The renters hosted a barbeque in the house they were renting from the landlord, Aldredge.  The injured renters and guests sued Aldredge for money damages.

Over twenty (20) years prior to the incident, Aldredge had hired a carpenter to remove the existing back deck and build a new one.  Aldredge did not supervise the building of the deck, but he was aware that the carpenter had attached the deck to the house using nails and nut bolts.

Around the time he rented the property to the plaintiffs, Aldredge replaced several deck boards, inspected the deck and did not notice any rot or defects. The renters and their guests were injured when the deck broke away from the house and fell to the ground, because the joist that attached the deck to the house was rotten and damaged.  Aldredge inspected the deck after it collapsed, and noticed that the joist appeared to have rotted.

Aldredge moved for summary judgment, stating that there was no evidence that the deck collapsed because of faulty construction, and no evidence that he knew that the premises was in need of repair.   The trial court denied the motion, holding that an issue of fact existed as to whether Aldredge had constructive knowledge (he should have known) that there was a need for repair and failed to do so.

Aldredge appealed the denial, and the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling, dismissing the claims against Aldredge.  The Court held that, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 44-7-14, Aldredge, as an out-of-possession landlord could only be liable for a third party’s damages that resulted either from faulty construction of the premises or from his failure to repair the premises. The record reflected that Aldredge had no role in the construction of the deck.  Additionally, during the time they were living there, plaintiffs did not inform Aldredge that any maintenance needed to be done on the deck.  The Court found that plaintiffs had failed to present any evidence that Aldredge had actual or constructive knowledge that the deck was in need of repair.

As the Court held, landlords are not insurers of their tenants’ safety, and liability only arises where the landlord is on notice of a defect and therefore the necessity for repair.  Aldredge follows a line of cases which protect out-of-possession landlords from liability except in limited circumstances.   Once landlords have fully parted with possession and the right of possession of premises they own, courts do not want to hold them to the higher standards required of landowners who live on the property.   Instead, the responsibility is on the on-site renter to keep the landlord informed about the need for repairs.