With the explosion of the “private” rental business wherein residential property owners rent their house or condo on a short-term basis to third-parties, certain legal issues have arisen with regard to the duties owed by the property owner to the renter.
A recent Virginia Supreme Court case, Haynes-Garrett v. Dunn, 818 S.E.2d 798 (Va. 2018), addressed that issue. In that case, the property owners owned a rental house in Virginia Beach. The property was not the owners’ main residence, but rather a vacation home that was sometimes used by the owners, but mostly used as a rental. The issue addressed by the court was whether – for the purpose of evaluating the owners’ duty of care to the renter – the relationship should be classified as a “landlord-tenant” relationship or an “innkeeper-guest” relationship. This classification was important because the duties of the owner to the renter were significantly different depending on the category. In the landlord-tenant arena, under Virginia law, the landlord has no duty to maintain the property in a safe condition because the property is deemed to be under the tenant’s exclusive control. (An exception being concealment or fraud by the landlord as to some defect in the premises that is known to the landlord but unknown to the tenant.) Assuming that exception does not apply, the tenant takes the premises in whatever condition they may be in, thus assuming all risk of personal injury from defects or dangerous conditions.