In addition to being liable for the criminal acts of strangers/non-tenants, a landlord usually has a duty to protect the neighborhood of the rental property from the criminal acts of his/her tenants. Most often, landlords are held responsible for tenants dealing drugs on the property.
If one of your tenants is dealing on the rental property, you as the landlord or rental property owner can face a variety of legal punishments. Criminal punishments usually require that you have knowledge of the drug dealing or other illegal activities. For example:
- You could face fines for allowing the illegal activity to continue to occur
- You could face criminal penalties for knowingly allowing the illegal activity to occur
- The rental property can be confiscated by the government, but this is only in extreme cases
- In addition to criminal penalties, there can be other negative consequences for landlords. These can include:
- Rental property value can drop, thus making it hard to find and keep tenants
- If a tenant or anyone else in the neighborhood is injured or annoyed by the drug dealing, you could be sued on the grounds that the rental property constitutes a public nuisance that threatens public safety and morals.
The best step you can take to reduce the likelihood of being held responsible for the criminal acts of your tenants is to perform a thorough screening of all applicants when renting out a property. Here are a few other tips:
- Don’t accept cash payments for rent
- Keep an eye out for any suspicious activity on the property (e.g., heavy traffic going into and out of the building)
- Have provisions in the lease referring to drug dealing and other criminal activity and make it clear that those crimes will not be tolerated
- Evict anyone who violates these provisions immediately
- If you receive any complaints from tenants about drug dealing or other criminal activity, respond immediately – consult the police if you feel it is necessary to do so
- Consult a security expert and do anything else that is reasonable and legal in order to determine if there is any criminal activity going on
Landlord-tenant law can become very complicated, and is constantly changing. If you have a concern about what duties you have to prevent criminal activity by your tenants, an experienced real estate attorney can help answer your questions and represent you in court if necessary.