SW Legal studies in Business

Blanket Exculpatory Clause in Lease Not a Defense for Landlord
Description

Idaho high court held that an exculpatory clause that stated a tenant could not sue a landlord for any injury was too broad and could not be enforced. All rights cannot be waived; a landlord has certain obligations at common law to provide reasonably safe premises for tenants.

Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words

Liability; Lease; Exculpatory Clause; Tenant; Injury

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Lindsley owns an apartment building and rented an apartment to Jesse in 2000. The lease contained an exculpatory clause saying that “the owner shall not be liable for damages due to either injuries or accidents” from any cause. In 2005, Jesse was injured when she fell in a sinkhole while walking across the lawn of the apartment. She was walking on the lawn because heavy rain had covered the sidewalk with water. The sinkhole had been there for a while and was known to both Lindsley and Jesse. Jesse sued for negligence, arguing that the sinkhole was an unreasonable risk to tenants and should have been remedied. Lindsley pointed to the exculpatory clause and the district court held for him. Jesse appealed.

Decision

Vacated and remanded. The exculpatory clause is too broad and so in unenforceable. A landlord has a duty to maintain common areas in a reasonable manner so as to protect tenants and their guests. The case should be tried to determine if the landlord breached his duty to his tenant to exercise reasonable care. Exculpatory clauses will either be upheld as valid or voided. A court will not modify a clause to make it enforceable. So Lindsley’s liability will rest on common law standards, not the clause inserted in the lease. Given that the landlord was on notice of a hole in the lawn, and that the sidewalk was such that it could be flooded, it was not unreasonable to expect tenants to walk on the lawn, so there was a duty for that area to be safe.

Citation

Jesse v. Lindsley, ---P.3d--- (2008 WL 2313406, Sup. Ct., Idaho, 2008)

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