Owning real estate comes with certain responsibilities. Owners have the duty to maintain their premises in a manner that is not negligent towards others. Failure to do so may result in serious legal and financial liability for the proprietor.

Duty of Care

Duty of care requires people to act in a way that does not jeopardize the safety of others. Without this duty, a person can not be liable for injuries they may cause. For a real estate owner, this duty is owed to those who visit or travel through his premises. It is defined as keeping the property in such a way that the average person would not be harmed while on the land. The scope of this duty applies to all parts of a piece of real estate, from the house and main grounds, to easements and areas of shared and or overlapping property.


Negligence can be defined as acting in an unreasonable manner that is likely to produce some negative consequence. For a homeowner, this might be seen in a failure to maintain trees or other foliage which eventually grow to obstruct motorist and pedestrian vision. Another example is a failure to maintain a septic tank which eventually ruptures, causing property and health damage to neighbors.

Penalties and Damages

If a proprietor is found negligent, he faces serious financial and legal consequences. Negligence can serve the basis for both criminal and civil charges. For instance, if a person dies due to a homeowner’s negligence, the homeowner can be charged with criminally negligent homicide. He may also be taken to civil court for a wrongful death suit.

In the civil system, defendants found negligent face having to pay substantial monetary awards for compensation and pain and suffering. This includes all expenses that a plaintiff incurs due to the negligence, loss of wages (both present and future) and any other out of pocket expenditure directly related to the damage caused by the defendant.

In the criminal justice system, a defendant faces not only loss of financial resources through fines, but loss of liberty as well. Depending on the seriousness of the incident, a proprietor found negligent in a criminal case could be looking at jail time, especially if a death or serious property damage is involved. As stated above, defendants in criminal cases may also be sued in civil court. The issue of premises liability should therefore be taken as seriously as any potential outcome.