Iowa Supreme Court Reinforces Need for Control in Landlord Liability Action

Posted on: June 5th, 2023

A company called CDM Rentals, LLC, purchased a condominium in Brook Run Park in Des Moines. Shelley and Cameron Barnes began leasing the condo on September 17, 2015. The Barnes’ unit had a garage that let out onto a shared driveway. A rain gutter ran along the roof above the shared driveway. The rain gutter downspout came down the front of the condominium such that it was positioned on the line dividing the Barnes’ unit from the neighboring unit. Because it was placed in this manner, the downspout let out directly onto the middle of the shared driveway rather than letting out onto grass or bare ground on the side of the unit. During the winter in 2019, water from the condo’s roof drained out onto the shared driveway and froze. Ms. Barnes slipped and fell on the ice. Both Shelley and Cameron Barnes filed a negligence suit against CDM Rentals, LLC. The homeowners association was not named as a defendant.

CDM filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it could not be liable because it did not own the property where the injury occurred. The district court granted the motion and the court of appeals affirmed the district court. The Barnes applied for further review. The Supreme Court reasoned that CDM lacked control over the common areas because the declaration expressly reserved the responsibilities of maintenance, repairs, and replacements for the HOA and forbade unit owners from doing those things. At common law, liability is premised on control and control is a prerequisite for liability under Iowa’s Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. The Barnes failed to provide sufficient evidence to show that CDM had control over the driveway or the downspout. For those reasons, CDM could not be liable for the Ms. Barnes’s injuries.

Barnes v. CDM Rentals, LLC, No. 21-0854 (Iowa May 12, 2023).

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