On the news this morning was the story of a second story metal deck collapsing and injuring five tenants at Northeast Plaza Apartments off Buford Highway. Having worked on 5 deck collapse cases at apartments and private homes over the years, I can say it is rarely an overloading issue and usually the result of years of negligently deferred maintenance.
What is disturbing is the residents statements to news media that the deck had been leaning for years and management did nothing about it. A secondary question is why didn’t the City of Brookhaven building inspectors note the obvious peril?
A pattern we see repeated time and again with multi-family and apartment homes is that maintenence is put off until absolutely necessary and the tenants are powerless to do anything about it. In this case, Georgia’s landlord tenant laws include a non-dischargeable duty to repair and maintain those decks. Liability on the landlord for the consequences is almost a certainty but that is little comfort to the families that fell or to their neighbors who face equally flimsy decks.
On a side note, customers often ask about injuries they sustain in their own apartment homes and whether they can sue when they knew about the problem. An example would be tripping over frayed carpeting or a loose door jamb. The answer is usually no. Premises liability law is based on the concept that the landlord has to have more knowledge of the problem than you do. If you both know about the danger, then you cannot sue. This deck collapse case will fall into an exception however if that was the only means of coming and going to the apartment. If it was, Georgia recognizes the necessity exception which says that if the tenant has no choice but to take the dangerous path, then they can still recover from the landlord for the failure to repair despite knowing about the problem ahead of time.