When renting or visiting an apartment building, there is a reasonable expectation that safety procedures and precautions are in place to protect residents and visitors. Property owners and landlords have a duty to keep apartment complexes safe by making an adequate investment to respond to known and reasonably foreseeable dangerous conditions on the property. Tenants and their guests are called invitees, and landlords owe them the highest duty. On the other hand, a criminal entering the property is more than likely to be classified as a trespasser to whom the property owner owes no duty.
What can a landlord do to protect their tenants and guests?
The higher the density of people living in one space and the fewer security measures there are, the more likely aspiring criminals are to target a building or its surrounding grounds, like the parking lot. Research has shown that security measures do help to deter some crimes, even if security measures cannot eradicate the risk of criminal activity.
Thieves might try to gain entrance to apartment buildings, which is why exterior security doors can be as important as an individual locking their door. Adding obvious security cameras, signage and proper lighting can help deter many crimes since violent criminals often target darker outdoor spaces like breezeways, alleys and parking areas, especially if there is no visible presence. When there is a security guard walking around or even motion-activated lights in a parking lot, an opportunistic criminal may decide that a different location is a better option.
The question remains – Is the property owner responsible when tenants or visitors become victims of crime?
Was the criminal act reasonably foreseeable?
If a review of the premises where the crime occurred makes it clear that minimal security measures could have protected you, you may have grounds to bring a claim against the landlord or management. Foreseeability generally means – did the landlord or management know or should it have known about the dangerous condition on the property? Unsafe and dangerous conditions can be anything from poorly maintained stairs and walkways, lighting in need of repair, or replacement of broken security cameras.
Premises liability claims often lead to civil litigation. To bring a premises liability claim against a building owner or landlord, you first have to prove your right to be on the property. Your lease gives you that right. Your invitation from a tenant gives you that right, and any legitimate purpose you have to be on the property gives you that right. The next step is to prove that the landlord either broke a law or ordinance or failed to adhere to its own policies or procedures or was negligent in how it maintained its facilities. Certain kinds of criminal activities are reasonably predictable, which means that landlords should recognize these risks and take steps to minimize them.
Landlord and property management owe those legitimately on the property a duty to exercise ordinary care in response to any reasonably foreseeable dangerous condition on the premises. Typically, lawsuits against property owners and property management are derived from a failure to respond to criminal activity on and in the area of the premises, perhaps most often, assaults, robberies, shootings and sexual assaults, poor or inadequate lighting – particularly in parking areas, breezeways and common areas; stairs and walkways in a state of disrepair; inadequate locks on doors and windows. Liability on the part of the property owner and management requires some form of negligence. If you can prove negligence, you might have a case for a premise liability claim.