In my last newsletter I mentioned a great idea of identifying and marking certain dangerous buildings for public information, not unlike the letter system used to grade restaurants. I believe the people who pay rent to work or to live in a building ought to know if there is a known and pronounced danger of being injured, or worse, during an earthquake. I did not know that my newsletter has such a profound effect, but the City of Los Angeles is now considering an ordinance requiring just that. However, there is a catch. Can building owners be held liable for their tenants losses if they knew about the potential dangers of their buildings? Apparently the answer is yes.
There are previous cases creating precedents that landlords may be held liable for such damages. In the 1994 Northridge earthquake the apartment building named Northridge Meadows was leveled, killing 16 people. The relatives of the victims sued the landlord and the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Similarly, after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake more than $2 million was paid in an out of court settlement to families. Another publicized case occurred in 2003 following the Paso Robles earthquake. In this shaker two women died. The city mandated that the owner, and all the owners of similar buildings, upgrade their unreinforced brick buildings before the earthquake happened, but the deadline for the repairs was set years ahead. The owner of the building argued that he was complying with the city’s request and was preparing for the repairs within the set timelines when this “Act of God” happened and that he, therefore, held no responsibility under the law.
None the less, the jury awarded the families $2 million, explaining that complying with city ordinance does not exempt the landlord from negligence in failing to retrofit the building. They were aware of the condition of the building and they didn’t act. Experts say that this award, which was recently upheld by the California State Appeals Court, is a landmark case and is most important in determining future damages in cases involving rental properties. Landlords cannot claim that they are in compliance while their building is still a dangerous place to inhabit. It will be up to a jury to decide: Did you act reasonably? They may say that it was unreasonable for you not to act.
Interesting, isn’t it? What do you think? It is easy to express your opinion on the Erdelyi blog!