Landlord Liability for Criminal Acts of Strangers and Non-Tenants

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Liability Does a Landlord Have for Criminal Acts of Tenants?

In addition to being liable for the criminal acts of strangers/non-tenants, a landlord usually must protect the rental property’s neighborhood from the tenants’ criminal acts. Tenants who deal drugs on the property are usually held responsible by their landlords.

Do Landlords Face Penalties if Their Tenants Deal Drugs?

As a landlord or owner of a rental property, you can face legal punishment if one of your tenants deals on the property. Criminal punishments usually require that you have knowledge of drug dealing or other illegal activities.

For example:

  • Allowing illegal activity to continue could result in fines
  • Knowingly allowing the illegal activity to take place could result in criminal penalties
  • Governments can confiscate rental properties in extreme cases, but this is rare

Landlords can also face other negative consequences besides criminal penalties. Among them are:

  • The value of rental properties can drop, making it difficult to find and retain tenants
  • The rental property may be sued for public nuisance if a tenant or anyone else in the neighborhood is injured or annoyed by the drug dealing.

Can I Protect Myself From Being Held Liable for Criminal Acts Committed by My Tenants?

You should thoroughly screen all applicants when renting out a property to reduce the possibility that you will be held responsible for the criminal acts of your tenants.

The following tips may also be helpful:

  • Tenant payments should not be made in cash
  • Be on the lookout for any suspicious activity on the property (e.g., heavy traffic entering and leaving).
  • Make it clear in the lease that drug dealing and other criminal activity are not tolerated
  • Evict anyone who violates these provisions immediately
  • Respond immediately if tenants complain about drug dealing or other criminal activity – consult the police if necessary
  • In order to determine if there is any criminal activity, consult a security expert and do anything else that is reasonable and legal
  • A rental property must meet or exceed all state and local security laws, such as deadbolt locks on doors, good lighting, and window locks.
  • Design a security system that provides reasonable protection for the tenants based on an assessment of crime in the neighborhood and around the rental property. Private security professionals, insurance companies, and local police departments can provide helpful security advice.
  • Tenants should be informed about the neighborhood’s crime problems, the security measures provided, and their limitations.
  • Regularly inspect the rental property for security issues, such as broken locks or burned-out exterior flood lights. Incorporating tenants’ suggestions into an ongoing repair and maintenance system would also be a good idea.
  • Respond immediately to tenant complaints about dangerous situations, suspicious activities, or broken security items. You may be subject to a higher level of legal liability if a criminal act injures a tenant after submitting a relevant complaint.

Your tenants should be informed if additional security requires a rent increase. The cost of a safer apartment will be higher for many tenants.

Implementing some of these measures may be costly, but the costs may be small compared to the costs of dealing with a crime on your premises. Jury awards are often higher than landlords’ insurance settlements for horrific crimes like rape and assault.

Those who own rental properties should be particularly careful when hiring property managers who interact with tenants and have access to master keys. To the fullest extent allowed by law, landlords should thoroughly investigate a property manager’s background and closely supervise their performance. An injured tenant or a tenant whose property has been stolen or damaged by a manager may sue the property owner for failing to properly screen or supervise the manager.

Landlords should pay attention if tenants complain about illegal behavior by a manager.

Additionally, property owners should check their insurance policies to ensure they cover their employees’ illegal acts.

When a Stranger Commits a Crime, Can a Landlord Be Held Liable?

A landlord can be held responsible for the criminal acts of a complete stranger. This is especially true if there has been a history of assault or other crimes on the landlord’s property. A growing number of lawsuits are being filed against landlords and rental property owners for criminal acts.

What Can a Landlord Do When Strangers Commit Criminal Acts On Their Property?

Many states require landlords to protect their tenants from criminal acts committed by outsiders. It is also the landlord’s duty to protect the neighborhood from the criminal acts of their tenants.

Ordinances, statutes, and building codes usually specify these duties.

Is it Possible for a Landlord to Limit Their Liability for Criminal Acts Committed By Tenants?

A landlord can take several steps to reduce the likelihood of being held responsible for the criminal acts of non-tenants. The best practice is to take steps to reduce the likelihood of a crime being committed on the property.

Among the other steps are:

  • Make sure you follow or exceed any security laws in your area, including deadbolt locks, proper lighting, and window locks.
  • Be aware of your neighborhood. Additional security measures may be necessary to ensure the safety of a rental property in a dangerous neighborhood.
  • Inform tenants about crime problems in the neighborhood and what steps have been taken to keep them safe.
  • Be sure to regularly inspect rental properties for security issues and fix them as soon as possible.
  • Respond immediately to complaints about criminal activity.

How Can the Property Owner Avoid Liability if Tenants Deal Drugs or Break Other Laws?

To avoid trouble caused by criminal tenants and to limit their liability in any lawsuits filed, landlords can take several practical steps:

  • Ensure that tenants are law-abiding and peaceful citizens by screening them carefully. To the extent permitted by privacy and anti-discrimination laws, weed out violent or dangerous tenants.
  • It is not a good idea to accept cash for rental payments.
  • Disruptive tenants should not be tolerated. Ensure that the lease or rental agreement prohibits drug dealing and other illegal activity and promptly evict tenants who violate it.
  • Keep an eye out for suspicious activity, such as heavy traffic entering and leaving the rental property.
  • Respond to complaints from tenants and neighbors about drug dealing in the rental property.
  • In the event of a problem, seek advice from the police as soon as possible.
  • Consult with security experts to ensure the rental property is protected against illegal activities.

What Are the Landlord’s Responsibilities in Terms of Tenant Safety and Security?

Most states require landlords to protect their tenants from would-be assailants and thieves on the property and from the criminal acts of their fellow tenants. Moreover, landlords must protect the neighborhood from their tenants’ illegal activities, such as drug dealing. Typically, these legal duties are based on building codes, ordinances, statutes, and court decisions.

Tenants who criminals have injured are suing rental property owners with increasing frequency, with settlements and jury awards usually ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. Landlords will likely be held liable when a crime occurs on a property where a similar assault has already taken place.

How Do I Know If I Need a Lawyer?

Because your duties as a landlord are often found in court decisions and other hard-to-find places, a landlord-tenant lawyer can advise you on what steps you should take to ensure the safety of your tenants.


16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer