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7 tips for minimizing landlord liability for third-party criminal acts

unknownBy Nick Mamone

While landlords know they are liable for losses associated with weather, fire and slip-and-fall injuries on their commercial and residential properties, they may not be aware of their liability for other incidents.

Take, for example, a tenant robbed and assaulted in his apartment by a criminal who has entered the landlord’s apartment. Or a shopper robbed in the parking lot of a shopping center. Or a pizza delivery person attacked on a landlord’s property while delivering to a tenant.

In each of these instances, the landlord may be liable. While states differ in their approach, courts across the country are increasingly finding commercial and residential landlords liable for injuries sustained by their tenants or those frequenting their commercial properties as the result of the criminal acts of third parties.

Landlord liability

Tenants injured by criminals in their rental property are increasingly suing their landlords. Settlements can reach into the millions of dollars, especially if this is not the first incident reported on the property. As a result, it is critical that landlords understand the risks of criminal attacks that occur on their property and implement common-sense measures to reduce their exposure.

Practical security controls include the following:

  • Meet or exceed state and local security laws applying to the rental property, such as requirements for deadbolt and window locks, as well as proper lighting.
  • Maintain properties by conducting regular inspections to identify and correct security problems, including broken locks and burned-out light fixtures.
  • Keep vegetation neatly trimmed to reduce the availability of hiding places. One industry association recommends the “three-foot – six-foot rule,” under which bushes and shrubs should be no taller than three feet, while tree canopies should be no lower than six feet.
  • Solicit suggestions from tenants as part of an ongoing maintenance program.
  • Immediately address complaints about dangerous situations, suspicious activities, or broken security items at commercial or residential properties. Keep a written log of complaints and what you did as landlord in response to each. Failure to do so could saddle you with greater legal liability should a tenant be injured by a criminal act after a relevant complaint is made.
  • Consider the level of criminal activity in the neighborhood around the property and create a security plan to deter common crimes. For example, if window break-ins are common, consider installing alarms or bars on windows to limit potential liability.
  • Carefully screen property managers and tenants.

By following these common-sense measures, landlords can minimize their risk should a third party cause harm on their property.

Contact Nick Mamone at (330) 887-8819 or (800) 243-0210, ext. 4308819, or NicholasMamone@Westfieldgrp.com.

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