Homeowner Liability

Your home may be your haven away from the busy outside world. However, to others who come into your house or onto your property, it may pose a danger to their personal safety.

As a homeowner, you have the obligation to keep everyone who comes in your home or onto your property safe. You can satisfy this expectation and avoid legal complications by learning more about homeowner liability.

What is Homeowner Liability?

Homeowner liability is simply the legal responsibility of homeowners to protect people who come into their homes or onto their properties. This protection ensures that both invited and uninvited people are not directly injured or made ill because of the condition in which you keep the inside and outside of your house.

For example, if you fail to shovel and sand your sidewalk after a snowstorm, you could be found liable for a person’s injury if that individual slips and falls while walking past your house. Likewise, you could be found legally responsible if one of your guests is injured by a loose light fixture that has fallen on his or her head.

While you cannot anticipate every possible scenario in and outside of your home that could cause an accident, you still are expected to meet the reasonable liability guidelines as mandated by your state. Taking steps now to make your home as safe as possible for anyone who might come into your home or onto your property could protect you from legal and financial difficulties in the future.

Liability Risks to Your Home

As you inspect the inside and outside of your home, you may wonder what factors could present a threat to people’s safety. Some of the more common liabilities that could present a challenge to you as a homeowner include:

• Heating systems powered by natural gas or propane
• Wood-burning fireplaces or furnaces
• Pets, especially dogs
• In-ground or above ground swimming pools
• Spas or hot tubs
• Sidewalks

If you have any of these liability risks in or outside of your home, you must ensure that they will not pose a danger to anyone who comes into your house or yard. For example, you should maintain and repair gas or propane heating systems to avoid carbon monoxide leaks.

You should also keep your sidewalk in good repair and cleared of debris to prevent slip and fall accidents. You should put up a fence around your pool, spa, or hot tub to keep people out and to prevent accidental drownings.

Likewise, you should keep your dogs inside a fenced-in yard or inside your house and also make sure that they are trained and up-to-date on vaccinations. If you keep them in your fenced-in yard, you should post Beware of Dog signs to warn passers-by if your dogs are hostile toward strangers.

These simple precautions as well as numerous others that you can take to make your home safer can help you meet the reasonable liability obligations as homeowner in your state. They also could demonstrate to a court that you took the appropriate safety measures to prevent accidents and injuries to people who visited your home.

Legal Obligation toward Visitors to Your Home

As a homeowner, you may welcome any number of people to your home on a regular basis. While you most definitely have the obligation of safeguarding people you invite to your house, you also have the legal responsibility of protecting people whom you do not invite.

Most states require that you make your home and property safe for visitors who fall into any of these categories:

• Licensees: Licensees are people whom you invite to your home or onto your property for social reasons. For example, party guests belong in this category of visitors. You are expected to provide a reasonable amount of safety for licensees who come to your home.
• Invitees: Invitees are people you invite to your home or onto your property for business reasons. Deliverymen and contractors are examples of invitees. You have the responsibility of protecting invitees from unknown hazards in areas to which these people will have access when they are in your home or on your property.
• Trespassers: Despite it being illegal for people to trespass onto your property, you still could be found liable for trespassers’ injuries if they slip and fall or otherwise get hurt inside or outside of your home. The law requires that you take reasonable action to prevent accidents and injuries even for people who are not legally supposed to be on your property.

While you must take precautions to protect adults who visit your home, you have a unique responsibility to safeguard children against liabilities known as attractive nuisances. The legal system says that children are not expected to be aware of fixtures that could present a danger to them. Instead, it is up to you as a homeowner to protect children from anything in or outside of your home that could hurt them.

For example, many children are irresistibly drawn to swimming pools. They often want to go look at or even jump into pools on other people’s properties, even if they have not been invited or told to stay away.

A swimming pool, hot tub, spa, and other similar fixtures are called attractive nuisances because they attract children who may not realize the accident or injury risk. As the owner of the fixture, you have the responsibility to make it off-limits to children are either invited onto property or trespass without your knowledge.

One of the best way to detract children from your pool, spa, or hot tub would be to install a fence and an alarm system. The fence should be tall enough so that children cannot scale it. The alarm should be loud enough to alert you and others that the gate has been breached.

If you fail to make your pool, hot tub, or spa off-limits to children, you could be found legally liable if a child gets hurt or drowns on your property. You could face significant financial and criminal repercussions because you failed to meet the reasonable liability expectations placed on you by the state in which you live.

Another type of attractive nuisance on your property could be your pet. Children love to approach pets like cats and dogs. However, if your pet bites or scratches a child, you could be held legally liable for the child’s injuries and medical expenses.

To protect yourself from legal and financial challenges, you should keep your pet indoors and away from children who are playing outside near your home. You should also avoid leaving your pet with a child. This level of supervision will ensure that your pet poses no danger to children and that you meet the reasonable liability standards as a homeowner.

Owning a home is a crowning achievement for many people. Despite your home being your most treasured asset and a place to feel comfortable and secure from the outside world, it can also be a liability to you if you do not regular inspect and maintain its safety.

While you want to keep you and your loved ones safe from harm, you have the legal obligation to protect people who come into contact with the inside and outside of your home. You can prevent people from injuries, illnesses, and other accidents by learning what is expected of you when it comes to meeting the reasonable liability requirements for homeowners in your state.