O'Neil Wallace & Doyle, PC

PREMISES LIABILIY: NO STATUTORY CLAIMS FOR NON LESSEES

CASE INFORMATION

Name: Walker v. Hela Mgmt, LLC

Court/ Judges: Michigan Court of Appeals –Unpublished Per Curium Opinion by Judges Riordan, Kelly, and Shapiro

Decided: July 15, 2021

INTRODUCTION

"The statutory protection under MCL 554.139(1) arises from the existence of a residential lease and consequently becomes a statutorily mandated term of such lease." Accordingly, a breach of the landlord's duty to maintain the premises in accordance with MCL 554.139 is construed as a breach of the lease's terms.

The Court of Appeals held that parties who do not have a contract or lease with a landlord, including minor children and immediate family dwelling in the residence, cannot recover under the statute.

CASE SYNOPSIS

In Walker, the plaintiff, her fiancé and two children sought to rent an apartment managed by Hela along with their two (2) minor children. The plaintiff spoke with the management company about the rental and when it came time to sing the lease, the management company told her that she did not need to sign the lease as her fiancé's income had been used for the application. Shortly after moving in, the Plaintiff informed the Management company of a broken tile on the basement stairs. About one week later and before the stair could be repaired, the Plaintiff continued to use the area and stepped on the broken tile injuring herself. The Plaintiff brought suit against the landlord under a theory of premises liability and statutory claims under MCL 554.139. After discovery, the management company moved for summary disposition and same was granted. The trial court found that the condition was open and obvious and that the landlord owed no duty to the Plaintiff under the statute.

ANALYSIS

On appeal, the Court looked to the Michigan Supreme Court's Holding in Mullen v. Zerfas, and Allison v. AEW Capital Mgt., LLP which held that a landlord's duties to a tenant under the statute exist only between contracting parties and a non-tenant could never recover under the statute. The Court reasoned that the plaintiff in Mullen was a true social guest rather than a residential family member and MCL 554.139 makes no mention of "contracting parties". However, Mullen's interpretation of the statute suggests that landlords owe no duty under MCL 554.139 to any members of the lessee's resident family, including children, who are incapable of contracting.

Although the plaintiff argued that she was a "tenant," and "licensee" for the purposes of the statute, the Court focused on the plaintiff's lack of any contractual duties to the defendant. The Court further reasoned that there was no consideration between the plaintiff and defendant for the plaintiff to use or reside in the rental home. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed summary disposition for the defendant.

Presently, we have a motion for summary disposition pending on this issue, and we intend to closely monitor Walker and its progeny to provide additional guidance.

 

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