Q: Unbeknownst to me, my tenant hired a handyman to come to the house and perform some repairs. The guy hurt himself and is now threatening to sue me. He says he has no insurance, and my tenant has none, either. I have property and liability insurance, but that’s it. What is the risk that I’ll end up paying the bill? –Jeff R.
A: I don’t think there’s a for-sure answer to your question. It depends on a few factors, which I’ll explain.
First, who was responsible for the repair that the handyman undertook, and how serious was the problem that needed fixing? If it was a repair that seriously affected health and safety, was something that you knew about and were obliged to fix, you may have a problem. That’s because a judge may see your tenant’s response — a self-help measure when you failed to act — as foreseeable. When landlords deliberately or carelessly fail to live up to their duty to maintain fit housing, they must realize that tenants may step in and do the work themselves. If injury results, the landlord is sometimes held responsible.
For example, the tenant whose water heater is broken and unfixed, who burns herself with scalding water brought from the stovetop to the bathroom so that she can bathe in warm water, may have a claim against the landlord.