Liability of Landlord for Failure to Prevent Crime
Written by: Joseph Tobener
Updated December 3, 2010
A landlord can be held liable for the criminal conduct of third parties, including other tenants. CACI 1005. Criminal conduct includes assault, battery, theft, burglary, arson, rape, murder, vandalism, and property damage. To prove a claim for landlord liability for the negligent or intentional criminal conduct of others, a tenant must show that the landlord (1) knew or should have known about potentially dangerous criminal activity and (2) failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm. Id. It is in the providence of the jury to decide what reasonable steps the landlord should have taken to protect tenants. Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Center, 6 Cal. 4th 666 (1993).
A landlord must secure common areas to protect against crime. Depending on the types of crimes in the neighborhood, this may include adding a security gate, motion sensitive lighting, improved lighting, working locks for common areas, video surveillance, and automatic garage doors. Property owners may not be required to provide security guards unless a series of criminal assaults have occurred. See Delgado v. Trax Bar and Grill, 36 Cal. 4th 224 (2005). Nor are landlords required to make garages secure if the landlord never claimed the garage to be a secured area. Kwaitkowski v. Superior Trading, 123 Cal. App. 3d 324, 328 (1981).
It is not enough to show that a neighborhood has a high incidence of crime. Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Center, 6 Cal. 4th 666 (1993). Instead, the injured person must show prior similar criminal acts. Id.
When a landlord has breached a duty to prevent third party crime, a tenant can recover for physical and emotional harm and property damage. In cases of extreme landlord neglect, a tenant may recover punitive damages.
After she was thrown down a flight of stairs, a tenant successfully brought a cause of action for negligence against a landlord who did not warn her about a fellow tenant who was physically and verbally abusive. Madhani v. Cooper, 106 Cal. App. 4th 412 (2005).
Tenant who was raped by another tenant brought a successful fraud and negligence action against a landlord who knew that the tenant presented a danger to others. O’Hara v. Western Seven Trees, 75 Cal. App. 3d 798 (1977).
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