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Premises Liability — Finding the Occupant

Premises Liability-Finding Occupant
Brien Roche

Sometimes in a premises liability case it is difficult to find who the occupant is. The occupant may be the owner. The occupant may be a tenant. Or the occupant may be a relative of the owner with no lease.

You want to find out not only who is the owner but also who is the occupant.

There are several things you need to do to find the owner and occupant in a premises liability case:

Premises Liability-Finding Occupant-Title Check

Doing a title check can be difficult. If you don’t know how to do one then hire a title examiner to do a limited title search. What you want is a title search that is limited to the identification of the owner on the date of your incident. As part of that title search, you want to see the deed that shows who the owner is. There are title examiners that typically are associated with title and escrow companies. Identify one of them and use that person as your title examiner.

On the other hand, you can do the title exam yourself electronically, then that becomes even easier. Your first step in that process should be to go into the local real estate tax records to see what they report as being the current title owner. Those records may be inaccurate. However, what those records typically do is they identify the deed book and page number where the identified owner took title. From that deed book and page number you can find the deed. You would simply then run that title owner’s name through the grantor index to see if that person has conveyed out any interest in that property from the date of their acquisition. If they have not, then they are the title owner as of the date of your search.

Premises Liability-Finding Occupant-FOIA Request to Local Treasurer

The local treasurer typically is the one who issues business licenses for premises. That business license is part of the Business Professional and Occupational Licensing tax (BPOL). However, you don’t want the tax information. All you want is the name of the person who holds the license for those premises.

Visit the Scene

By going into the location, whether it be a business or whatever, you may see identifying information as to who is the owner and/or the occupant. For instance in a hotel, typically at the front desk there will be something posted as to who is the management company, who is the franchisee, who is the property management company. All of that information may be helpful in terms of identifying the occupant.

Visiting the scene may also disclose the existence of fixed cameras. If there are any fixed cameras, you need to find out who owns them and what they might portray as of the date of your incident.

Certificate of Occupancy and/or Non-Residential Use Permit (Non-RUP)

You may want to try getting the Certificate of Occupancy (CO) which may also be called the Non-Residential Use Permit (Non-RUP) for the property. That typically can be obtained from the zoning office for that jurisdiction. In Fairfax County, Non-RUPs can be obtained from the Department of Land Development Service which is found at (703) 324-1780.

Premises Liability-Finding Occupant-Zoning Issues

Sometimes the occupant may not be an authorized occupant. For instance, if the property is zoned residential but it’s being used for a commercial purpose, then that purpose may be unlawful. It’s helpful to know that. In Fairfax County, you can use the system called Jade to identify your property and also what the zoning is for that particular property. It sometimes happens that one piece of property may have two different zoning classifications. Part of it may be commercial. Part of it may be residential. If the property is being used for an unauthorized purpose, that alone may create liability for the occupant.

Some mapping tools for use in Fairfax County are:

FOIA Requests

The local government may be a wealth of information about this incident:

  • Do a FOIA request for any 911 recordings and the text of any 911 communications relating to the incident;
  • Check the county or local government website to see if there are any aerial photographs of the area where the incident occurred;
  • Do a FOIA request to the local government to get any photographs they may have showing the condition of the site at the time of the incident.
  • Check Google Earth and also Google Street View to see if there are any pictures of this area.

Pleading Ownership or Control

When pleading ownership or control of the premises where the incident occurred, you need to take a look at Virginia Code § 8.01-279 and also Virginia Supreme Court Rule 1:10. The statute and the rule may seem to be contradictory but I think they really just need to be read together. If you plead ownership of a particular piece of property and the defendant doesn’t expressly deny it, then they may be stuck with what you’ve alleged. These particular pleading innuendos however should not be relied upon too heavily. You’re better served by doing a thorough analysis to determine who the true owner of the property is as specified above.

Talk with an Experienced Premises Liability Personal Injury Lawyer in the DMV Area

Call, or contact us for a free consult. For more info on premises liability see the Wikipedia pages. Also, see the post on this site dealing with premises issues.


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