Residential Landlords Can’t Escape “Occupier’s Liability”

The Ontario Court of Appeal has affirmed that occupier’s liability of a residential landlord cannot be extinguished or transferred to tenants under current Ontario law.

For landlords, the case is a stark reminder that they are effectively the liability guarantor for personal injury occurring on tenant-occupied property, regardless of reckless or negligent conduct of the tenant or guest that may have contributed to the injury ( Taylor v. Allard, Ont. Court ofAppeal). The facts of the case also illustrate the need for landlords to ensure that their tenants are insured.

In Taylor, a principal tenant was the mother of the landlord. The tenants had possession of a single family home and its surrounding lot. Prior to the rental to his mother and her partner, the landlord had made a fire pit at the rear of the property, ringed by partly buried cinder blocks. There was no lease and the only “rent” paid was the operating costs of the property, with the understanding that the tenant and her partner would be responsible for maintenance and repairs.

A drunken guest arrived at a party at the rented premises late one evening and settled in with some other partiers around the fire pit. Shortly thereafter, a fight broke out. The drunken plaintiff moved backwards, falling over the cinder blocks ringing the fire pit and landing on smouldering embers. The plaintiff was badly burned, incurring $265,000 in damages.

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