Whether you are an investor in real estate or a homeowner, it is important to understand how common law plays a role in determining ownership of property and establishing liability. Without taking the time to understand the following concepts, you may find yourself in difficult situations, especially if individuals are injured while on your property or in your asset. The more you understand about the role common law plays in real estate, the better prepared you’ll be to protect your rights and plan accordingly. The following is some helpful advice from what I understand common law to be, but as a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and so the following should not be taken as legal advice.
If an individual is present on a property without invitation or knowledge from the owner, the individual is defined as a trespasser through common law. It is not the duty of the property owner to warn potential trespassers of any dangers on the property. However, the property owner is expected to maintain a reasonably safe environment, especially if adult trespassers may be present. If children are present or may be trespassing, the owner is held to a higher standard of safety protocol. This is especially evident if there are pools, bodies of water, or other dangerous items on the property.
A guest or person who is invited onto the property by the owner is considered a licensee. Unlike trespassers, licensees are more protected. Owners have a higher level of responsibility to ensure licensees are aware of and acknowledge any potential dangers on the property. It is crucial that owners maintain a safer property if licensees are present. Failure to inform a licensee of potential and known dangers on the property that could harm the individual or their property could cause the owner to be found liable.
Inviting individuals onto your property for business or commercial purposes in which you will benefit falls under the invitee category. An invitation could be as simple as leaving your door open or leaving a sign on the door welcoming individuals to enter. Out of the three categories, outlined in this blog, invitees hold the highest liability. Owners are responsible for protecting invitees from unsafe conditions and harm.
Liability for property owners often is a combination of both common law and real estate law, which work together to define conditions. While laws and guidelines are subject to change and can be different depending on where the asset is, it is in the best interest of an investor or property owner to be aware of the laws that surround their property. Having an awareness of common law can help investors and homeowners avoid incidents which could potentially cause legal action against them.