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FAQ -- Landlord Responsibilities: Criminal Activities

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding landlord liability and their responsibility when it comes to protecting tenants from criminals or tenants.

What responsibilities does a landlord have for tenants' safety and security?

In most states and jurisdictions, landlord responsibilities cover (at least to some degree) adequate protection for their tenants. This may impose a legal duty on the landlord to take steps to protect their tenants.

In addition to responsibility to the tenants, landlords may be partially responsible for protecting the surrounding real property. For example, some states have laws that impose liability on landlords for renting property where criminal activity may occur. There are also rules that punish landlords for not seeking eviction of a renter doing something illegal.

In increasing numbers, landlords are being brought to court by tenants that have been injured by criminals while in their rental properties. Settlements from these cases often reach into the millions of dollars, especially when a similar assault or crime occurred on the same rental property in the past.

Are there ways that a landlord can limit their responsibility for the criminal acts of non-tenants?

There are steps that a landlord can take to lessen the chances of a crime being committed on the rental property and reduce the landlord's chance of being held liable .

Landlords should adhere to the following:

  • Ensure that each rental unit meets or exceeds the safety laws of the municipality. For example, many jurisdictions require that all residential rental properties have a locking doorknob and a deadbolt. To limit potential liability, a landlord could ensure that all of these fixtures are in working order and also install a sliding chain lock.
  • Give careful consideration to the crime statistics in the area surrounding the rental property, install a security system. For example, if there has been a series of break-ins through windows, a landlord may wish to install alarms or bars on accessible windows to lessen their potential liability.
  • The landlord may inform the tenants about crime incidents in the neighborhood. Often, rental complexes have a website that informs tenants about immediate concerns and safety.
  • Encourage tenants to inform the landlord about any potential security or safety problems. If there are any tenant complaints about potential safety problems, they should be handled immediately and not ignored, it could lead to increased liability for the landlord.
  • Always update security measures.
  • Finally, if you are a landlord be careful and deliberate when it comes to choosing a property manager.

The property manager is the person that will have the most interaction with the tenants. Background checks and references will aid in choosing the best suited for the job. Even if some of these measures may seem expensive, keep in mind that any dollar spent now may save thousands of dollars in the future.

Can landlords face legal trouble for tenants that deal drugs on the rental property?

If a landlord rents to a tenant that conducts criminal behavior in their rental property, the landlord may face one or more of the following kinds of practical and legal problems:

  • The landlord may face fines stemming from various federal or local laws.
  • Any person that is injured could sue the landlord, claiming that the rental property has become a public nuisance or poses a danger to the community.
  • Police or law enforcement officers may try to impose criminal liability on the landlord if the landlord knowingly allowed criminal activity on the rental property.
  • Finally, criminal activity in or around the rental property will decrease its value.

Are there ways that a landlord can limit their responsibility for a tenant's criminal conduct?

There are a number of steps that a landlord can take to limit potential liability that may be caused by a tenant's criminal activity, a landlord should:

  • Screen tenants carefully. Ask key questions on rental applications. In addition, many states allow landlords to run credit reports and background checks on potential tenants.
  • Include an explicit clause in the rental agreement that states that the landlord has the option of evicting any tenant that is conducting criminal dealings in the rental property.
  • Listen to the tenants, if they complain of a high amount of traffic in and out of a certain apartment or rental unit.

Get Legal Help With a Landlord's Responsibilities Regarding Criminal Activity

As a landlord, you certainly don't want your tenants to engage in illegal activities on your property, especially if they cause a disturbance with other tenants or the surrounding neighborhood. If you have questions about your rights and responsibilities with respect to a tenant who you believe is involved in illegal activity, you may want to speak with a local landlord-tenant law attorney.

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