Facts: A landlord purchased a single family residence (SFR) which included an in-ground swimming pool in the backyard. The pool complied with all safety codes when it was built 25 years prior, but the landlord did not later modify it or install a security gate around it. The landlord later rented the property to a tenant. A guest of the tenant visited the home with their 4-year-old grandchild, and left the only door leading from the home to the pool open. The door did not have a self-closing mechanism. The child fell into the swimming pool and drowned.

The guest of the tenant sought money losses from the landlord for wrongful death, claiming the landlord’s negligence contributed to the child’s death since the landlord failed to maintain the swimming pool in a reasonably safe condition for tenants and guests by not installing a security gate or other safety mechanism around the pool.

Counter claim: The landlord claimed they were not liable for the child’s death since the pool complied with safety code, which only requires an owner to implement additional safety features if the pool is newly-constructed or being remodeled.

A California court of appeals held the landlord was liable for the child’s death since the landlord’s failure to implement safety features around the pool constituted neglect as the pool was not maintained in a reasonably safe condition for tenants and guests. [Johnson v. Prasad (February 25, 2014) _CA4th_]

Editor’s note – Before a landlord is determined to be liable for injury suffered on their property, the following factors are considered:

  • the foreseeability of the injury suffered;
  • the closeness of the connection between the landlord’s conduct and the injury;
  • the moral blame attached to the landlord’s conduct;
  • the public policy preventing future harm;
  • the extent of the burden on the landlord and the consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care to prevent injury; and
  • the availability, cost and prevalence of insurance for the risk involved.

In this case, the court determined it was reasonable to assume children would be near the pool. Further, the very existence of the pool created an inherent risk that someone may fall in and drown in it. Thus, the injury was foreseeable and preventable by the landlord. The court further concluded the burden of installing safety features to comply with safety code was outweighed by the benefits of that burden—i.e. saved lives. Additionally, this burden is lessened with the availability of homeowners’ insurance, which is typically available to cover such risks on the property.

For a further discussion of a landlord’s duty of care, see first tuesday Landlords, Tenants and Property Management (
Chapter 29: Dangerous on-site and off-site activities).