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If I am injured at a house my buddy was renting from his landlord and my injury was the result of some dangerous condition of the house, say the awning over the front porch fell on my head when I was ringing the doorbell, can I sue my buddy for the badly kept awning? Or must I only sue the landlord who owns the property?

In America, we sue anybody for anything. The question is do you have a claim recognized under the law you can win with.

As to my former buddy, the answer here is: It depends on the lease terms between your buddy and his landlord.

A tenant under a lease does not owe a duty of care to third parties for maintaining the leased property when the tenant did not have the right of exclusive control over that spot of property that caused the injury.

Determining if a tenant has a right of exclusive control is found in the lease agreement between the tenant and landlord. Does the lease have language that says the tenant shall have exclusive control over the premises? Or does it say that tenant shall not make alterations to the premises without the consent of the landlord?

These are terms that a judge would have to flush through to decide if the tenant had exclusive possession and therefore a duty of care owed to me when that awning came down on me. In personal injury cases, the judge makes the determination if a duty of care to maintain property is owed. A jury would then decide if a breach of that duty of care occurred which caused an injury.

Typical are situations where there is an apartment complex or commercial strip mall and someone is injured in a building stairwell or foyer, or in the yard, sidewalk or parking lot one might cross to get to the building. Those are often referred to as “commons” areas, and typically a tenant does not have a right of exclusive control in those areas, and therefore no duty to maintain.

Then again, suppose the commercial lease says the tenant shall maintain the parking lot and all access areas. Voila! The tenant may then have an exclusive right of control of the parking lot, and thus owes a duty to use reasonable care to maintain the parking lot.

Sometimes a lease is vague as to exclusive possession rights. This might be typical for house leases where the rent was verbally agreed upon with no detail as to who is specifically to control what.

Trying to decide what the parties agreed on for the right of control may have to be determined through their actions during the lease. Did tenant do a repair to the awning and the landlord knew and never objected? Thus, maybe by implied agreement, the tenant had exclusive control of the premises, and thus had a duty to use reasonable care to maintain that awful awning.

I have no hesitation to sue my now-ex-buddy anyway.

In addition to my injury, that knucklehead owes me money I loaned him for his fantasy league losses.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Inc. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.