STAND YOUR GROUND: Landlord liability clauses - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andy Wise

STAND YOUR GROUND: Landlord liability clauses

Updated:

The next time your landlord tries to tell you he's not responsible for certain damages to your rental, remember the video you'll see in the box to the right.

The amateur video looks like a cross between Hurricane Katrina and a terrorist bomb.

A smoke detector beeps incessantly as the camera tilts and pans around damaged furniture, toys, clothes and electronics.  Water drips from gaping holes in the ceiling and soaks nearly everything in Peter Lau's Cordova apartment.

Lau says two months before a water pipe exploded December 2005, The Registry at Wolfchase apartments' maintenance staff repaired a water leak in his unit.  Lau says he warned management about strange noises every time he turned on the water.

Two months later, it exploded.  Lau estimates his property losses at $12,000.

But he says his landlord refused to compensate him based on a liability clause on the third page of his lease.

The clause says the "Landlord shall be under no liability to the Lessee for damages or losses due to the discontinuance of interruption of heat, water, hot water, or of any other service..."

It goes on to say the "Lessee shall be responsible for insuring his own possessions against water leakage, flood, sewer backup, fire, windstorm, and other risks of loss."

"That provision released all liability of the landlord," says Lau. "Basically as a tenant, you can do nothing.  As a landlord, 'I'm God. I can do anything.'"

Not exactly.

Tennessee Code Annotated 66-28-203 of the Uniform Residential Landlord And Tenant Act says "No rental agreement may provide that the tenant...agrees to the exculpation or limitation of any liability of the landlord to the tenant arising under law or to indemnify the landlord for that liability or the costs connected with such liability."

Translation:  Tennessee law bans landlord liability clauses, according to Germantown lawyer and certified fraud examiner Kevin Snider.

"You cannot limit the liability, especially for something like (a water pipe) that would be deemed to be an essential service," says Snider, "and I think it would be illegal and void."

The Action News 5 Investigators asked John B. "Jack" Turner, attorney for the apartments' managing company ALCO Management, Inc., to comment about the law.  By e-mail, Turner said:

"It appears that Mr. Lau is attempting to influence the outcome of this dispute by involving the media. We decline to join in this attempt. Because litigation is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further."

In court documents, Turner alleges Lau's damages were caused by someone other than The Registry at Wolfchase, but he doesn't name anybody or anything.  He also says Lau is in breach of his contract with the apartment complex.  

Lau has sued ALCO Management, Inc., alleging both negligence and an illegal landlord liability clause.

"If the landlord knowingly put that clause in the lease, then the landlord will have to pay," Lau says.

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