When injuries occur on apartment houses, the mere relationship of landlord and tenant does not make the landlord liable for injuries to the tenant on the premises[i]. Where the entire interest expires, the landlord is not liable for injuries to the tenant.
However, a landlord is under a duty to keep those portions of the premises which s/he retains under his/her control in a reasonably safe condition and is liable for damages resulting from his/her failure to do so.
In determining the existence of a duty by a landlord to its tenant, the court considers[ii]:
- the foreseeability of the injury;
- the magnitude of the burden of guarding against the injury; and
- the consequences of placing that burden upon the defendant.
Although the common law imposes on landlords only a duty to maintain in a reasonably safe condition those areas of their premises over which they exercise control, statutes may impose on landlords additional duties or obligations[iii].
Under general principles of tort law, a requirement imposed by statute may establish the applicable standard of care to be applied in a particular action. To establish liability as a result of a statutory violation, conditions to be satisfied by a plaintiff are:
- the plaintiff must be within the class of persons protected by the statute.
- the injury must be of the type which the statute was intended to prevent.
A landlord who has a statutory duty to maintain the safety of a tenant’s apartment may be held liable for an attack on the tenant resulting from the landlord’s breach of this duty[iv].
Courts have extended a landlord’s liability to include injuries to a tenant resulting from criminal attacks in his/her apartment, even though the landlord had no control over the apartment itself[v]. The rationale underlying liability is that the criminal intruders necessarily had to gain entrance to the apartment through the building’s common entry and passageways and these portions of the premises are exclusively within the landlord’s control.
Therefore, the landlord’s negligence in failing to adequately secure the areas under his/her control directly facilitated the resulting criminal act and injury.
A landlord has a legal duty to take reasonable security measures within the common areas when[vi]:
- the landlord had knowledge or should have had knowledge of criminal activity having taken place on the premises, and
- a landlord of ordinary intelligence, based on the nature of the past criminal activity, should have foreseen the harm suffered.
A landlord’s liability is not limited to injuries which result from criminal acts occurring in the common areas of the premises. It extends to a tenant’s injuries suffered in his/her own apartment[vii]. The location of the crime does not necessarily determine the landowner’s liability for injuries resulting from criminal acts.
However, absent a statutory duty, a landlord may not be held liable for the criminal acts of third persons unless such acts were reasonably foreseeable[viii]. Similarly, the landlord does not have a duty to protect a tenant from loss or injury due to the criminal actions of a third party[ix].
Further, a landlord’s duty to maintain safe common areas is not limited to preventing harm that occurs only within the common areas. Rather, negligent maintenance of or failure to correct a known defect in areas under the control of the landlord may result in liability for injuries that occur within the leased premises[x].
A landlord’s duty to prevent criminal activity on his/her premises depends on its foreseeability[xi]. When a landlord has leased property but has not parted control with a portion of it, the landlord may be liable for a foreseeable injury caused by a known dangerous or defective condition located within the part of the property over which the landlord retained control. The duty of a landlord in these cases depends on the existence of three circumstances[xii]:
- the landlord controlled the dangerous or defective condition;
- the landlord had knowledge or should have had knowledge of the injury causing condition; and
- the harm suffered was a foreseeable result of that condition.
However, when a landlord turns over control of leased premises to a tenant, it ordinarily has no obligation to maintain the leased premises for the safety of the tenant[xiii].
[i] Erhardt v. Lowe, 596 S.W.2d 489 (Mo. Ct. App. 1980).
[ii] Bradtmiller v. Hughes Props., 693 N.E.2d 85 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998).
[iii] Gore v. People’s Sav. Bank, 235 Conn. 360 (Conn. 1995).
[iv] L.M.S. v. Angeles Corp., 621 So. 2d 246 (Ala. 1993).
[v] Rosenbaum v. Security Pacific Corp., 43 Cal. App. 4th 1084 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1996).
[vi] Hemmings v. Pelham Wood Ltd. Liab. Ltd. P’ship, 375 Md. 522 (Md. 2003).
[vii] Rosenbaum v. Security Pacific Corp., 43 Cal. App. 4th 1084 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1996).
[viii] L.M.S. v. Angeles Corp., 621 So. 2d 246 (Ala. 1993).
[ix] Bradtmiller v. Hughes Props., 693 N.E.2d 85, 88 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998).
[x] Hemmings v. Pelham Wood Ltd. Liab. Ltd. P’ship, 375 Md. 522 (Md. 2003).
[xi] Mount Vernon Fire Ins. Co. v. Creative Housing, Ltd., 797 F. Supp. 176 (E.D.N.Y. 1992).
[xii] Hemmings v. Pelham Wood Ltd. Liab. Ltd. P’ship, 375 Md. 522 (Md. 2003).