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Beach house owner not liable for injury to renter.

Byline: Virginia Lawyers Weekly

Where a couple that owns a beach house did not intend to maintain control of the property during the rental period, the duty of care they owed to a renter is the commensurate with that of a landlord to a tenant.

Background

Drew and Cynthia Dunn purchased a single-family, two-level beach house in Virginia Beach as a second house. The Dunns rent the house from May through October. The rental is managed by Siebert Realty.

June Haynes-Garrett rented the house for her family's 2014 summer vacation. While in the house, she stubbed her toe on the transition strip or "lip" where the floor was raised. She fell onto the ceramic tile floor, injuring her elbow, which subsequently required two surgeries. She commenced a personal injury action against the Dunns and Siebert.

At the conclusion of Haynes-Garrett's evidence, the defendants moved to strike her evidence and enter judgment for defendants. The Dunns argued that, where "possession of the premises are surrendered to even a short-term vacation rental, such as a one-week rental," the relationship of the owner and guest is one of landlord and tenant. The Dunns explained that neither they nor their agent, Siebert, "maintained a presence on the property, or were in direct or continued control of the property during the time that Mrs. Haynes-Garrett rented it." Therefore, according to the Dunns, they only owed Haynes-Garrett the duty of care that a landlord owes its tenant. In response, Haynes-Garrett asserted that the Dunns owed her the same duty that an innkeeper owes its guest.

In support of its motion to strike, Siebert asserted that it had no relationship with Haynes-Garrett and owed no duty of care to her with regard to the condition of the house. Haynes-Garrett responded that Siebert owed "a duty to the people who come within its sphere of conduct" and also a duty of care as part of a "joint endeavor" with the Dunns.

The circuit court granted the defendants' motions to strike and entered judgment in their favor.

Analysis

The sole issue before us on appeal is whether the circuit court erred in ruling that the Dunns only owed a duty of care to Haynes-Garrett commensurate with that of landlord and tenant. The distinction between the landlord-tenant relationship and the innkeeper-guest relationship is based upon the extent to which the owner of the premises maintains possession of and control over the premises during its occupancy.

We agree with the circuit court that Haynes-Garrett did not establish a relationship of innkeeper and guest. As an initial matter, the Dunns did not hold the house out as a "public place" for "the accommodation for travelers." According to testimony, it was used by the Dunns as a "second house" to "spend time with family" during certain times of the year and was available for rental only during the months of May through October. Furthermore, the Dunns did not make the house available to the "public" generally, but rented their vacation house only to "families." Thus, the Dunns cannot be characterized as "innkeepers" in the traditional sense.

Furthermore, the evidence shows that the parties did not intend for the Dunns, or their agent, Siebert, to maintain possession and control of the house during the occupancy by Haynes-Garrett and her family. The fact that the Dunns provided no food service, room service, daily maid service or security for the benefit of occupants is inconsistent with any intention on the part of the Dunns, or expectation on the part of Haynes-Garrett, that the Dunns maintain possession and control of the premises during the occupancy of the house by Haynes-Garrett and her family.

Therefore, the circuit court did not err in ruling that the Dunns only owed a duty of care to Haynes-Garrett commensurate with the duty a landlord owes its tenant.

Affirmed.

Haynes-Garrett v. Dunn, Record No. 171055, Oct. 4, 2018. SCV (McClanahan) from Va. Beach Cir. Ct. (Shockley). VLW No. 018-6-069, 12 pp.

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Title Annotation:Haynes-Garrett v. Dunn, Virginia Supreme Court
Publication:Virginia Lawyers Weekly
Date:Oct 28, 2018
Words:666
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