In most cases, landlords will not be held liable for attacks by third-parties on their tenants. However, there are some exceptions. A landlord may still be liable for the criminal acts if:
- The criminal act was foreseeable to the landlord – Whether a criminal act is foreseeable is incredibly fact specific. For example, if there have been police reports of criminal attacks in the area, and a tenant as expressed concern about inadequate lighting or security in the area, and the tenant is the victim of a crime, the landlord may be liable for a civil suit after the fact.
- There was a duty to protect the tenant – An example of a duty to protect the tenant would be a situation where the tenant was not allowed to change or add locks to their door, or where a landlord knew of one tenants repeated acts of violence against another tenant. Additionally, a landlord might be held liable for leasing to a known dangerous person, or for failing to report criminal activity by a tenant.
- The landlord increases likelihood of crime – Some states find liability if a landlord increases the risk of an attack through some action or inaction. An example would be leaving entry doors unlocked or refusing a tenants request for a change of locks.
To avoid liability, landlords should do their best to reduce the likelihood of criminal acts on their premises by taking reasonable safety measures. These measures can include:
- Ensuring that there are sufficient and working locks on exterior doors and windows.
- Properly maintaining the building and any security measures.
- Notifying tenants of criminal activity in the area.
- Following through on any complaints of suspicious activity with the police.
- Carefully screening possible tenants before signing a lease.
Although dog attacks may qualify as a crime, the landlord’s liability for an attack by a tenants dog will only occur based on some act of negligence by the landlord, such as allowing another tenant’s dog into someone’s apartment or allowing a tenant to keep a dog known to be vicious.
The laws of landlord liability differ from state to state and are rather complex. An experienced real estate attorney can help you understand the law and determine your duties as a landlord, or your rights as a tenant. In the event of a lawsuit, an attorney can also represent you in court.