Latest News 2017 January Am I Liable for Criminal Activity that Took Place on my Property?

Am I Liable for Criminal Activity that Took Place on my Property?

As a landowner, you already know that you are exposed to numerous civil issues that occur from liabilities on or from your property. However, criminal liability is a whole different animal—are you responsible for lawbreaking tenants? Or are you responsible for criminals who harm your tenants?

Here is the short answer: yes, but not always.

Tenant Security & Safety Liability

Landlords and property managers have always been responsible for certain security aspects of their structures. This includes basic items like deadbolts and locking doorknobs. Your city or county will determine the standard you need to meet to keep your tenants safe. If a robbery or assault occurred on your premises after you failed to provide adequate security measures, you may be held responsible.

However, the definition of landowner liability has broadened in recent years. Now, landlords are also responsible for reporting any criminal activity to tenants to keep them informed. In addition, property managers need to inspect the premises for any illegal activities—most often drug dealing. If illegal activity is discovered, action needs to be taken or the landowner will be liable for it.

Property owner liability takes multiple forms, all of them costly:

  • Tenant lawsuits based on injury or inconvenience due to criminal activity (from $100k to $1M)
  • Heavy city or county fines for allowing continuous illegal activity to occur
  • Government seizure of the property if criminal activity has been occurring for a prolonged amount of time with the owner's knowledge.

The most vulnerable landowners are those whose structures already have a history of criminal activity. If local law enforcement sees that you have not taken steps to report or prevent crime in your building, then they will impose fines or charges against you to "encourage" preventative behavior.

A history of criminal activity may also expose a landowner to liability if assault, sexual or otherwise, occurs on their premises. Property managers are encouraged to screen tenant applications for past criminal activity in order to ensure the community is safe, secure, and confident in your management.

Prior Knowledge & Landowner Liability

Every situation where you are liable rests on prior knowledge. If you know (or should know) about activity on your property, you need to act on it immediately. Evict the offender, pay for increased security measures for tenants, or report ongoing activity to the police and cooperate with their investigations. It keeps your tenants safe, it makes them feel safer, and it insulates you from the illegal activities taking place on your property.

As long as your policies, rental agreements, and actions reward good and transparent behavior (and discourages illegal activity), then you'll have a safe property with a good reputation. Consider taking your first step today.

Categories: Landowner Liability