Propst v. McNeill

Decision Date18 November 1996
Docket NumberNo. 95-1290,95-1290
PartiesJames F. PROPST, Appellant, v. Dan McNEILL, in his official capacity as Airport Commission Chairman, Walnut Ridge Airport Commission, Walnut Ridge Airport, and City Of Walnut Ridge, d/b/a Bertco, Inc., Appellees.
CourtArkansas Supreme Court

Mark S. Carter, Little Rock, for Appellant.

Robert H. Crank, Walnut Ridge, Paul D. Waddell, D. P. Marshall Jr., Kevin W. Cole, Jonesboro, for Appellees.

GLAZE, Justice.

This case involves an issue concerning landlord-tenant liability. Appellant James F. Propst entered into a lease with appellee Walnut Ridge Airport Commission 1 and that lease set out the terms under which Propst stored his plane, a 1972 Cessna 182, in hangar space at the Walnut Ridge Airport. Afterwards, a wind storm damaged the hangar and Propst's plane. Propst subsequently brought suit against the Commission, alleging the Commission had negligently failed to (1) secure the hangar to its foundation, (2) replace defective structural supports, or (3) warn him of the hangar's defective condition. The Commission answered, denying the allegations and raising a number of affirmative defenses. Eventually, the Commission moved for summary judgment, claiming any obligation it might have as a landlord was a matter of contract and the parties' lease controlled the litigation. The Commission, without admitting its hangar building was in disrepair, argued that, under Arkansas's landlord-tenant law, it was not responsible for damages to Propst's plane because of the Commission's failure to repair the leased building. The trial court agreed and granted the Commission's motion. Propst appeals from that summary judgment.

In his first argument, Propst acknowledges that Arkansas has recognized the caveat lessee doctrine for almost a century, Haizlip v. Rosenberg, 63 Ark. 430, 39 S.W. 60 (1897), and under that rule, unless a landlord agrees with his tenant to repair leased premises, he cannot, in the absence of statute, be compelled to do so or be held liable for repairs. Stalter v. Akers, 303 Ark. 603, 798 S.W.2d 428 (1990); see also Majewski v. Cantrell, 293 Ark. 360, 737 S.W.2d 649 (1987); E. E. Terry, Inc. v. Cities of Helena & W. Helena, 256 Ark. 226, 506 S.W.2d 573 (1974); Hurst v. Feild, 281 Ark. 106, 661 S.W.2d 393 (1983). Consistent with this doctrine, the trial court here determined that, under the parties' lease, the Commission never agreed to repair or maintain its hangar, so the Commission was not obligated to pay for any plane damage Propst may have sustained, resulting from defects found in the hangar building. However, Propst, citing Sargent v. Ross, 113 N.H. 388, 308 A.2d 528 (1973), opines the caveat lessee rule of law is outdated and asserts landlords should be compelled to exercise reasonable care not to subject others to an unreasonable risk of harm. See also Stephens v. Stearns, 106 Idaho 249, 678 P.2d 41 (1984) (adopted rule that a landlord is under a duty to exercise reasonable care in light of all circumstances); Asper v. Haffley, 312 Pa.Super. 424, 458 A.2d 1364 (1983) (negligence of the landlord is a matter for determination by the factfinder); Favreau v. Miller, 156 Vt. 222, 591 A.2d 68 (1991) (landlords may be held liable for exposing their tenants to unreasonable risks of harm in the leased premises). To further support his contention that Arkansas's adherence to the caveat lessee rule should end, Propst submits that Arkansas has become less rural, and consequently tenants have become less informed and too ill-equipped to judge the structural integrity of buildings with which they are unfamiliar. See Thomas M. Quinn and Earl Phillips, The Law of Landlord-Tenant: A Critical Evaluation of the Past with Guidelines for the Future, 38 Ford. L.Rev. 225 (1969). He adds that landlords, on the other hand, are generally familiar with their properties either through firsthand knowledge of the condition of the properties or through knowledge imputed to them by persons hired to manage their properties.

The Commission acknowledges that a majority of states no longer apply caveat lessee; nonetheless, it submits Arkansas courts should continue to follow that doctrine, or at the very least, leave it up to the General Assembly to decide whether the state's landlord-tenant law should be changed in this respect. First, the Commission cites the case of Dapkunas v. Cagle, 42 Ill.App.3d 644, 1 Ill.Dec. 387, 356 N.E.2d 575 (1976), where the appellate court rejected a party-tenant's invitation to depart from the well-established caveat doctrine as applied to leases. The Illinois Court reasoned in part as follows:

In the landlord-tenant law, on the other hand, the landlord, although having the benefit of a limited immunity through the rule of caveat emptor, is not totally insulated from recovery for injuries sustained by the tenant or third persons as a result of defects in the premises. As we have already pointed out, there are several exceptions which can allow for recovery from the landlord; and these exceptions cover many injuries. Additionally, building codes in force in many localities today have the effect of protecting tenants, to a certain extent, by requiring landlords to keep their buildings within applicable standards. At the time of the early product liability law developments away from privity notions, purchasers of manufactured products did not have the benefit of anything comparable to a building code to control manufacturers. It can hardly be said, therefore, that a present-day tenant injured by a defect in the leased premises is in the same remediless position with respect to the landlord as the injured purchaser once was with respect to the product manufacturer.

Expanding further on why this court should refuse to overturn its earlier case law on the subject, the Commission argues the caveat lessee rule serves Arkansas's constitutionally declared public policy of respecting its citizens' right to contract. It suggests that eliminating caveat lessee...

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13 cases
  • Thomas v. Stewart, 01-259.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Arkansas
    • November 29, 2001
    ...reasons. First, we point out that, although Thomas urges the court to overrule a long line of cases, including Propst v. McNeill, 326 Ark. 623, 932 S.W.2d 766 (1996), her brief fails to provide the court with any authority on the issue of caveat lessee beyond a New Hampshire case, Sargent v......
  • Franke v. Clinton William Holland Revocable Trust Uad Aug. 9, 2010
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    • September 1, 2021 leased premises, he cannot, in the absence of statute, be compelled to do so or be held liable for repairs. Propst v. McNeill , 326 Ark. 623, 932 S.W.2d 766 (1996).4 Franke attached the following exhibits: (1) Johnson County commercial property card; (2) excerpts of Holland's deposit......
  • Hadder v. Heritage Hill Manor, Inc.
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    ...2013 Ark. 367, 430 S.W.3d 7. Arkansas courts have recognized the caveat lessee doctrine for more than a century. See Propst v. McNeill, 326 Ark. 623, 932 S.W.2d 766 (1996) ; Haizlip v. Ros enberg, 63 Ark. 430, 39 S.W. 60 (1897). Under Arkansas law, it is irrelevant whether a third-party vis......
  • Holland v. Cooper, CV–17–657
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    ...leased premises, he cannot, in the absence of statute, be compelled to do so or be held liable for repairs. Propst v. McNeill , 326 Ark. 623, 624, 932 S.W.2d 766, 767 (1996) ; see also Majewski v. Cantrell , 293 Ark. 360, 362, 737 S.W.2d 649, 651 (1987) (stating that a lessor under common l......
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1 provisions
    • United States
    • Arkansas Session Laws
    • January 1, 2005
    ...on the premises.(b) As the Supreme Court recognized in Thomas v. Stewart, 347 Ark. 33, 60 S.W.3d 415 (2001) and Probst v. McNeill, 326 Ark. 623, 932 S.W.2d 766 (1996), for more than a century, Arkansas law has adhered to the common law principle under which a landlord has no liability to a ......

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