There's a reason owning a house is such hard work. Even if you follow all the rules and get your regular inspections, you could still get sued for reasons you never saw coming — this is what you probably didn't know you needed to watch out for.
Yes, even if you didn't invite someone over you're at risk — that's why pools are called "attractive nuisances" in law. "The owner is charged with knowledge that children will attempt to enter the pool and have a duty to keep the pool secure and safe," explains Thomas Simeone, a personal injury attorney.
A homeowners' association in Fayetteville, New York filed a lawsuit against one man for leaving his brand new pickup truck in the driveway. It stated that driveways in the neighborhood were for private passenger automobiles only and that the new truck didn't meet those standards. Rough.
"The more dangerous the breed, the larger the risk of a claim," says Simeone, which totally makes sense. But if your dog shows any signs of aggression in the eyes of law (which includes growling or barking!) they're considered more dangerous. One Seattle family was fined $500,000 over their barking dog.
Not only are playgrounds potentially dangerous, but the color might offend your neighbors, too. This was the case for a Georgia family that was sued by their homeowners association because their daughter's playhouse was too pink. Oh, and a Kansas City family's was too purple.
Generally, if someone is on your property without permission, you're not responsible for their safety. The exception? "If there is a well-used path across your property, you are charged with consenting to others' use of the path," says Simeone. He says some people protect themselves by hanging "warning" signs or closing off their paths.
A California homeowner was sued for nearly $25 million by the federal government after it was discovered that a spark from their poorly-maintained electrical junction box was the cause of a 2013 wildfire that charred more than 27,500 acres of land and cost the U.S. Forest Service more than $15 million to put out, plus $9 million in damages.
Don't forget about the concrete paths near your home that no one claims. "An owner may be obligated not only to keep his or her own sidewalk clear, but also the one owned by the government in front of his or her home," says Simeone. For one Portland, Oregon family, not knowing they were responsible for the three-inch raised surface near their home resulted in a $63,500 lawsuit.
And built your deck without a permit. "Deck failures usually happen when there is excessive load, such as a party, and an injured guest often leads to a lawsuit," says Welmoed Sisson, home inspector for Inspections by Bob Boyds in Maryland. If the deck wasn't properly permitted, the homeowner's insurance company could very well deny the claim, leaving the homeowner liable.
Just like a family member, you should pay attention to the health of your trees if you don't want to be sued. "If you notice one of your trees is sick and has the potential to fall, you may be liable if you fail to remove or trim it and it injures someone," says Simeone. Another thing to watch out for? Large limbs that drivers might not see as they zoom past your house.
This goes well beyond just snow and ice falls. One mailman broke his foot and leg after slipping on moss growing between the planks on a wooden path outside of a Annadale, New York family's home. As a result, the homeowners were sued and settled for $300,000.
Confused? Well, homeowners who share a roof (think: condo and co-op life) have to be extra careful, says to Brian Davis, a real estate investor and co-founder of SparkRental.com. "When one homeowner does work on their roof and gutters, there's always a risk that the neighbor might complain that they're now having water leak problems," says Davis.
You already know this should be filed under "attractive nuisance," too. Insurers say trampolines and bouncy castles are some of the most common causes of injury at birthday parties. Sadly, in one incident a Collinsville, Illinois girl got hurt on her grandmother's trampoline so her mother filed a lawsuit claiming the grandmother failed to properly supervise.
Like the container that sits under your outdoor faucet. Why? "With increasing fear of Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses, anything in a yard that allows water to gather and stagnate might cause a litigious person to blame their neighbor if the area becomes infested with mosquitoes," says Davis. Yikes.
According to Sisson, any set of stairs with three or more risers need a sturdy handrail. "Missing handrails, or handrails that are loose or not graspable, can lead to falls," he says. Simple enough. You might also want to make sure your interior stairwells have adequate lighting with switches at the top and bottom just to be safe.
No one likes dealing with the trash, but Davis warns that avoiding this dirty chore could have consequences. "If you allow garbage to accumulate, it can attract rats, cockroaches and other pests," says Davis. No one wants to be sued over infesting your neighbor's home with insects or rodents. Even worse: They could head to your home next.