Landlord Liability for Criminal Acts of the Tenant

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Property owners are required by law (to some degree) to protect their tenants from burglary, assailants, as well as other occupants in the rental property. The landlord is also liable for the criminal acts of tenants living in the building along with having a duty to protect the neighborhood from illegal activities. There have been many instances when a property owner was held responsible for his/her occupants dealing drugs and had to face severe legal punishments for allowing the illegal activity to continue. Therefore, all landlords should be vigilant and take adequate measures to limit liability for the crimes committed by their tenants. Below is how a property owner can reduce the risk of being responsible for a criminal act, as well as limit the likelihood of a crime being committed in the neighborhood.

Steps to Follow

The first thing to do in order to stay safe from lawsuits is to meet the security requirements specified by the state and local authorities. This may range from using deadbolt locks on the apartment doors to having good lighting in and around the property. As a property owner, you are also required to be aware of the crime situation in the neighborhood and install a practical security system that would provide reasonable protection to your tenants. You can contact the local police department or consult with your insurance provider or a private security company to get some advice on what security measures you should adopt for your location.

You should also take the responsibility to educate your tenants about the criminal problems in and around the rental property, as well as explain the security measures that you have installed in the building to safeguard them from any possible criminal activity. Similarly, you should also maintain the rental property and perform regular inspections in order to find and fix any security concerns such as broken locks or faulty light fixtures. You can even ask your tenants for suggestions and ideas on improving the security system as well as encourage them to inform you about any repair and maintenance work necessary.

Another key thing to consider here is to address tenant complaints about any suspected criminal activities and/or dangerous situations as soon as possible. In fact, you can get in even more serious troubles and incur a higher level of legal liability if you fail to deal with their complaints in time and they get injured by the criminal act that they complained about. If taking care of their complaints requires more investment on your part, you can increase the monthly rent of the tenants after discussing the same with them. Most residents would be happy to pay a bit more in order to live in a safer environment.

If you are hiring a manager to take care of the rental property for you, you should cautiously check his/her background before handing over the master keys to him/her. At the same time, you should always monitor and supervise his/her job and see how he/she interacts with the tenants living in the property. Note that you may be held responsible to compensate for the damages and/or injuries that are caused by your manager. So if any resident complains about an illegal act by your property manager, you should pay attention to that carefully and deal with the situation accordingly. Meanwhile, you should also have insurance coverage for any and all the illegal acts of your employees.

When it comes to choosing tenants, you should screen them carefully to the extent that is allowed under anti-discrimination and privacy laws. You can discard potentially dangerous tenants based on their past criminal records, history of drug use, or psychological health, and offer rental to peaceful and law-abiding citizens only. Likewise, it is also advised not to accept cash rental payments or tolerate disruptive behavior by the tenants. Consult with your real estate lawyer to include all the possible clauses in the rental agreement, which would protect you from any criminal act by a tenant.

Drug Dealing Tenants

If one of your tenants is involved in dealing drugs, and he/she injures or annoys a person, no matter whether it is another tenant or someone else in the neighborhood, you may be held liable for the criminal acts of your tenant. The plaintiff can sue you deeming your rental property to be a public nuisance and considering how it seriously threatens the safety and moral code of the neighborhood. If you knew about drug dealing on the property and did not take any action against it, the law enforcement authorities may levy stiff fines and/or seek criminal penalties against you. In some extreme cases, the government may confiscate the rental property as well.

If you are sued for having a drug-dealing tenant in the building, the value of your rental property would also fall drastically and you may find it difficult to keep good tenants as well. Therefore, you should take all steps possible to avoid such criminal activities on the rental property as well as in the neighborhood.

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