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State court looks at landlords' liability for tenant drug use

Many landlords and tenants in West Virginia may wonder how far the concept of premises liability stretches. In a recent case in another state, the parents of a man who died after a drug overdose sued the owner of the home where the overdose took place on the basis that he was responsible for maintaining the safety of people inside the home. They alleged that the landlord had a responsibility to remove tenants that he knew to be drug users as others could be hurt or injured due to drug side effects or overdoses.

In the North Dakota case, the state's supreme court rejected the premises liability framework as it applies to a landlord renting or providing a property to drug users. It noted that landlords cannot be made into mandatory reporters or law enforcement officers simply for owning and renting out a property. In addition, the decision to use drugs is an active, individual choice, the court noted, not a hazard that people could merely stumble into.

One dissenting justice argued that landlords may indeed have a responsibility to evict drug users or otherwise stop drug use from happening on the property. In addition, that justice argued that it could be considered negligence to allow one's property to become a known area for using and selling drugs. The majority warned, however, that such an approach could lead to a homelessness crisis.

While this case tested a novel understanding of premises liability, landowners do have a duty of care to the people who enter their property. For example, a shopping center owner has a responsibility to clean up slippery spills and to provide sufficient security to prevent attacks on customers in the parking lot. People who have been injured due to the dangerous conditions or activities allowed on another's property may wish to contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss seeking compensation for the harms they have suffered.

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