On July 30, 1994, the Conley family, tenants at a summer vacation rental cottage in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, suffered serious injuries when the second story deck on the cottage collapsed beneath them. A lawsuit was initiated against the owners of the cottage and the realty company handling the vacation rentals. The lawsuit alleged the realty company and owners breached an implied warranty of suitability for occupancy by failing to exercise due care to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition and to warn the tenants of any hidden peril which caused or contributed to the collapse of the deck.
Evidence was developed the deck collapse was due to corroded nails and the absence of lag bolts. The North Carolina Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the Defendant owners and realty company finding an implied warranty was applicable to vacation rental properties that they would be suitable for tenant occupancy and this warranty had been breached as evidenced by the deck failure. The North Carolina Court of Appeals recognized such an implied warranty was an exception to the common law rule of “buyer beware” (caveat emptor) applicable to real estate tenancies; however, the Court of Appeals reasoned it would be unreasonable to conclude a short-term lessor of vacation property did not impliedly agree the property was suitable for occupancy. Conley, et al. v. Emerald Isle Realty Inc., et al., 130 N.C. App. 309, 502 S.E.2d 688 (N.C. App. 1998).
The owners and realty company in Conley appealed the North Carolina Court of Appeals’ decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and confirmed the common law principle of “buyer beware” was applicable to vacation rental property in North Carolina and no liability of the owner arose from personal injuries caused by a failure to repair. Conley, et al. v. Emerald Isle Realty Inc., 350 N.C. 293, 513, S.E.2d 556 (N.C. 1999). The North Carolina Supreme Court called upon the legislature to amend or change existing laws dealing with rental properties if it was dissatisfied with the application of “buyer beware” to short-term vacation rental agreements.
The North Carolina Legislature responded to the call to action by the North Carolina Supreme Court in Conley and passed the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act in 1999 (N.C.V.R.A.). The provisions of the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act impose certain duties upon landlords with regards to tenancies of short-term vacation rental homes. NCGS Section 42A-31. These duties include making sure the property complies with all current applicable building and housing codes as required by the operation of the Code, making all repairs, doing whatever is necessary to put and keep the property in fit and habitable condition and keep all common areas in safe condition.
Statutory Obligations of Realty Companies
There are some issues regarding the duties of realty companies to tenants under the N.C.V.R.A. The Act provides a real estate broker must manage the property in accordance with the terms of the agency agreement signed by the landlord and the tenant, notify the landlord of necessary repairs to keep the property fit, habitable or safe and follow the landlord’s direction in arranging for necessary repairs, et cetera.
In cases involving structural collapses of decks, stairways, et cetera, the initial inquiry is whether the weight present on the structure exceeded the load requirements established by the applicable building code. If the cumulative weight on the structure did not exceed the load requirements established by the Code, a claim probably exists for a violation of the N.C.R.V.A.
There are also often files documenting communications between realty companies and property owners defining duties to inspect premises, reflecting the results of inspections of premises and requests to provide repairs, et cetera. These documents may also establish claims related to failures to reasonably inspect or repair structures against the owners and the realty company.
Injuries Caused by Structural Failure of a Deck
In cases of injuries caused by structural failure of vacation rental homes in North Carolina, it is important to recognize the protection afforded vacationers by the North Carolina Vacation Rental Act. We are happy to respond to inquiries concerning the Act via telephone or email.
Contact an Experienced Outer Banks Personal Injury Lawyer Today
Should you have any questions about your legal rights in a vacation rental deck accident, do not hesitate to contact the Shapiro & Appleton law firm. We offer free, confidential case evaluations and have been helping injured individuals in North Carolina since 1985.