California Landlord Protected by Waiver for “Amenity” Exercise Facility

By Doyice Cotten

Lewis Operating Corporation and Homecoming II operate a residential property which offers a health club or exercise facility as an “amenity” for residents. John Costahaude, a resident, was using a treadmill when an employee or agent of the ownership group  rolled a ball into, or under, the treadmill, causing the treadmill to flip upward and throw Costahaude off the machine. (Lewis Operating Corporation v. The Superior Court of Riverside County, 2011 Cal. App. LEXIS 1410)

Costahaude had signed a waiver in the rental agreement, agreeing that he

“assumes all risk of harm resulting from the use of  said facilities … and waives all Claims against the Landlord Group arising from or relating to the use of said facilities or the participation in such activities and programs by RESIDENT and his or her guests, even if caused by the Landlord Group’s negligence or gross negligence. The use of said facilities shall be at the sole risk of RESIDENT and his or her guests.”

Costahaude relied on Civil Code section 1953, subdivision (a)(5), which provides that the landlord exercise a duty of care to prevent personal injury or personal property damage where that duty is imposed by law. The court stated that a landlord may not lawfully require the tenant to sign an exculpatory clause to protect against injuries resulting from the tenant’s use of the basic or essential common areas—i.e., a parking area, lawns, walkways or corridors. However, the court concluded that a landlord’s duty to maintain amenities  does not necessarily trigger the application of Civil Code section 1953.

It held that the provision of an onsite health club or exercise facility was clearly well outside the basic, regulated offering of a residential dwelling, and thus, did not invoke the “public policy” rule.  The court concluded that “where a landlord chooses to enhance its offering by providing an onsite health club or exercise facility that goes well beyond bare habitability, there is no reason why the landlord may not protect itself by requiring the tenant, as a condition of use of the amenity, to execute the same waiver or release of liability that could lawfully be required by the operator of a separate, stand-alone health club or exercise facility. No public policy was violated by the exculpatory clause, and it was enforced against the plaintiff.