Preventing Crime In and Around Rental Property
In almost every state, a landlord has some responsibility for preventing crime. This entails protecting tenants from crime on a rental property. Generally, a landlord has a duty to use reasonable care to protect tenants from foreseeable harm caused by criminal acts. The following is a list of actions a tenant can take to help ensure that a rental unit is safe.
Check Whether Security Measures Adhere To Local and State Laws
A landlord must abide by city and state regulations governing rental property. A few states have specific laws regulating the security a landlord must provide tenants. But it's more common for local ordinances to impose security measures, such as peepholes and deadbolt locks. Copies of housing regulations are usually available online on government websites. If a landlord has violated a regulation, the tenant may report it to the agency enforcing those regulations. Most states have housing program departments that receive such complaints.
In many states, even if specific security regulations do not apply, courts will sometimes hold landlords liable. Landlords may be held liable for not preventing crime that occurs because of a violation of the implied warranty of habitability. For instance, suppose an assailant gains entrance into a building through an unlocked door. If the landlord was aware the lock was broken but failed to fix it for a long time, they may be partially liable for damages. This is because the defect substantially contributed to the assailant's commission of the crime.
Be Aware of the Landlord's General Responsibility To Act With 'Due Care'
The law wants a landlord to act reasonably under the circumstances. This means that a landlord must take reasonable steps to provide security measures. The measures will be intended to protect tenants from foreseeable criminal activity. In general, courts may find that preventing crime is the responsibility of the landlord when:
The landlord controls the area where the crime occurs. Landlords control common areas, such as lobbies, walkways, and elevators. This doesn't include sidewalks outside of the property.
It's foreseeable that various types of crime would occur. Prior criminal activity on the property or in the neighborhood may increase a landlord's responsibility. It may impose a duty on the landlord to protect tenants from future crime. This is because the property owner will have had earlier notice. They'll know prior on-site illegal activity has made the premises prone to security issues.
A security measure that could reduce the risk of criminal activity is inexpensive and easy to carry out. It's reasonable to trim tall bushes and install lighting, window locks, or simple security systems. Expensive fixes, like remodeling, may be unreasonable depending on the circumstances.
The landlord's failure to take reasonable steps caused or contributed to a crime. The crime was foreseeable, and the landlord could have taken reasonable steps to prevent it.
Make the Landlord Accountable for Security Promises
If a landlord makes an oral or written promise in an advertisement, they'll have to keep it. If a lease mentions specific security measures for a building, the tenants have the right to enjoy those promises. The failure of a landlord to provide a promised security feature or maintain existing security measures can be dangerous. It may lead to the landlord's liability if the failure to provide or maintain the specific security feature contributed to a crime.
For example, suppose a landlord advertises alarm systems and neighborhood watch services. They promise that these services will be provided during a tenancy. A tenant might consider occupancy in the rental unit relying on the same. They will reasonably expect that there will be security there beyond what the local police department can provide. If a break-in occurs because the landlord didn't follow through with their promise, they may be held liable. This is true even if regular law enforcement was near the apartment complex to address safety concerns.
Search for Potential Security Breaches
An effective way of preventing crime is for the tenant to inspect the property. Suppose trimming bushes or installing lighting in a dim area of a parking lot will enhance security. A tenant may make suggestions and specific requests of the landlord. As discussed above, a landlord must take reasonable precautions to protect tenants from crime.
For instance, your property management company might have a suggestion box. If you've seen vandalism in parking areas, you can let them know to alert the landlord to a potential security issue. Perhaps improving the surrounding landscaping might help. It could make it more difficult for violations to go undetected. A court might find that it was reasonable for you to request changes to the parking lot's environmental design. If the landlord or property manager ignores your request and security breaches occur there again, they may be liable for your damages.
Similarly, a tenant who discovers a security breach, such as a broken lock or a broken window, should inform the landlord. A landlord should fix the security measure reasonably quickly to prevent criminal activity and protect tenants. But what if your landlord feels you're pestering them too much with your security concerns? If the landlord retaliates against you by threatening you with eviction, be aware of your rights. A landlord can't punish you if your requests are reasonable and you've abided by your lease.
Fix the Problem and Charge the Landlord
If local or state code mandates the implementation of a security measure, a landlord must provide this feature. Sometimes, a tenant may also fix the problem and charge the landlord for the cost. In other situations, they may sue the landlord for reimbursement. In some states, a tenant may deduct the cost of installing a reasonably necessary security feature from the rent.
Some situations might even allow a tenant to break the lease and move out if it's reasonable to do so under the circumstances. For example, suppose a history of criminal activity is present in the rental. Despite their awareness, the landlord fails to take reasonable steps to ensure tenant safety. In these circumstances, a tenant may be able to break the lease and move out legally. Some states will permit the tenant to take such action if the landlord fails to fix the problem within a reasonable time.
What if the law does not provide for a specific security measure? A landlord might not be legally compelled to provide alarm bells. Here, altering the rental unit without the landlord's consent may violate a condition in the rental agreement (or its addendums). So, the landlord may be able to pursue legal recourse against the tenant. An eviction based on a lease violation will not be considered retaliatory if a landlord can show good cause for their actions.
Get Renters' Insurance
As a precaution against theft, a tenant may get renters' insurance. Suppose a burglar steals a tenant's personal property. Here, renters' insurance may provide reimbursement up to the maximum amount of the insurance policy. Various coverage amounts are available depending on the policy you buy. You should consult with your insurance company about your policy limits and coverage. This is to ensure that you have coverage for different types of problems that could occur in your rental unit. Some lease agreements even force tenants to get renters' insurance.
Any Questions? Call a Lawyer
Preventing crime in your rental property begins with understanding local laws. A real estate attorney can help you stay on top of all the landlord-tenant laws in your locality. Speak to one now so you can remain proactive about crime prevention.
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