Criminal Acts and Activities: Landlord Liability FAQ

How can a landlord limit responsibility for crime committed by strangers on the rental property?

The following steps will not only limit the likelihood of crime, but also reduce the risk that the property owner will be found responsible if a criminal assault or robbery does occur. A landlord should:

  • Meet or exceed all state and local security laws that apply to the rental property, such as requirements for deadbolt locks on doors, good lighting, and window locks.
  • Realistically assess the crime situation in and around the rental property and neighborhood and design a security system that provides reasonable protection for the tenants. Local police departments, your insurance company, and private security professionals can provide useful advice on security measures.
  • Educate tenants about crime problems in the neighborhood, and describe the security measures provided and their limitations.
  • Maintain the rental property and conduct regular inspections to spot and fix any security problems, such as broken locks or burned out exterior flood lights. Asking tenants for their suggestions as part of an ongoing repair and maintenance system is also a good idea.
  • Handle tenant complaints about dangerous situations, suspicious activities, or broken security items immediately. Failing to do this may saddle you with a higher level of legal liability should a tenant be injured by a criminal act after a relevant complaint is made.
  • If additional security requires a rent hike, discuss the situation with your tenants. Many tenants will pay more for a safer place to live.

While some of these measures may be costly, the money you spend today on effective crime-prevention measures may pale in comparison to the costs that may result from crime on the premises. Settlements paid by landlords' insurance companies for horrific crimes such as rape and assault are typically hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and jury awards are higher.

Protecting Tenants from the Manager

Rental property owners should be particularly careful hiring a property manager -- the person who interacts with all tenants and has access to master keys. Landlords should scrupulously check a property manager's background to the fullest extent allowed by law, and closely supervise his or her job performance. A tenant who gets hurt or has property stolen or damaged by a manager could sue the property owner for failing to screen or supervise the manager properly. If tenants complain about illegal acts by a manager, landlords should pay attention. Finally, property owners should make sure their insurance covers illegal acts of their employees.

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