The precise definition of a dangerous property will vary by state. However, a property is considered dangerous if there has been an assault, a murder, a rape, or another violent crime on the premises.
As a general rule is caveat emptor, meaning "let the buyer beware." Another general rule is that it is not illegal to fail to prevent crime. Therefore, the buyer is typically responsible for making sure that the landlord has changed the locks, and to negotiate for more lighting in the areas around the property. The buyer must take reasonable steps to ascertain the safety of the area and the history of the apartment, such as visiting the local police station or asking the seller or landlord herself.
Nonetheless, there are a handful of situations where a seller will be required to disclose dangers or crimes.
Misrepresentations: The seller cannot make any "misrepresentations," that is, quite simply, lie. Thus, the seller cannot say that a sexual assault had not occurred at the residence if it had, or say that the locks have been changed if they hadn’t.
Warranties: Modern changes in the law and society have changed the landlord-tenant relationship. These include the implied warranty of habitability and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing Nowadays, the landlord is increasingly responsible for disclosing:
- Past crimes
- Warning tenants where the landlord knows of criminal activity on the premises
- Future attacks on tenants that are "reasonably foreseeable"
Landlords generally have no duty to warn tenants about crimes in public areas adjacent to the apartment, or in those areas where no attempt to control had been made. Still, a landlord could be responsible for disclosing dangers of private parking lots, especially when previous measures to prevent criminal attacks had been taken. Thus, in considering whether there is a duty to warn a buyer, a seller must consider the nature, condition, and location of the premises.
If you have recently purchased a property or started renting, and believe the seller or landlord neglected to warn you of a dangerous condition, you should contact a real property lawyer immediately. A local attorney will have thorough knowledge and understanding of the laws in your area, and will be able to better inform you of your rights and potential remedies.