Landlords typically need to provide an apartment with reasonable safety measures to protect against crimes like murder, rape, or battery. Landlords are liable if they fail to protect against foreseeable crimes. Tenants should inform the landlord about these issues immediately and make specific, reasonable requests for additional safeguards.
Tenants may ask for metal bars over their windows, secondary locks, or lighted walkways. If there has been no incident in the building or neighborhood, the landlord is not typically required to implement such safeguards, unless required by state or local housing codes. However, many landlords that own buildings in bad areas put up simple safeguards anyways to protect their tenants, like metal bars over the windows.
If there is a pattern of similar crime in the area or building, landlords are liable for thefts, injuries, deaths, and damage to tenant property that occur in their rented apartments if the crimes are reasonably foreseeable. This essential element on whether a landlord is responsible is whether there has been a similar pattern of crime in the area. The “area” must be specific to the apartment, and usually only includes crimes in the same building. For example, if a tenant lives in a relatively crime-free neighborhood, they cannot claim that it’s foreseeable that there would have been a break-in or murder at their place just because the city or state has high crime statistics. Similar crimes must have occurred in the same building or in the neighborhood (depending on the state) for the landlord to be held liable for an incident.
However, most landlords do preemptively secure their buildings as appropriate for the city and neighborhood to prevent crime, to the extent the cost is reasonable. Aside from a moral calling, putting up safeguards usually makes sense financially and emotionally. The landlord will be required to implement reasonable safeguards once a crime is committed. If it appears likely that a crime will happen, then a landlord is simply delaying the changes they’ll likely need to make soon anyways and harming at least one tenant in the process. The costs of managing negative PR and tenant turnover after even a minor first incident can be substantial.
After an Incident
Once an incident has occurred to a landlord’s tenant, the landlord is required to implement reasonable safeguards to protect that tenant and others from similar crime. Tenants should immediately report the issue to the landlord and make specific demands about the additional security measures that they want to be installed. For example, tenants may ask for better locks, bars over windows, security cameras, etc. If the crime is likely to recur (e.g., the killer has not been found, etc.), tenants are entitled to any such safeguards that are reasonably priced for the severity of the problem. For example, having a full-time security guard for a building with only a handful of units is likely unreasonable, but additional lighting and bolt locks might be. Landlords that fail to provide such reasonable safeguards are liable for any injuries, damages, or stolen property that occur after a pattern of violence is established. The cost of the safeguards is typically implied in the lease under the “implied warranty of habitability” (available everywhere except Arkansas) and is required to prevent “premises liability” claims. Therefore, the landlords cannot charge tenants to install such safety features. Tenant associations are helpful to tenants that are seeking new safety features for their building(s).
Landlords are not responsible for incidents that occur off the property, even if it involves people who live in the building. For example, a landlord is not responsible if two roommates get into a bar fight.
Undisclosed Security Issues and Negligence
Landlords may be liable for medical costs and other damages under the tort of “premises liability” in some cases. Where a landlord knew about latent security defect (e.g., the back door of the apartment building’s lock is broken) and failed to inform the tenant, then the landlord is responsible for costs of any injuries caused by the failure to disclose that information. Also, if the landlord promises to fix a condition, but secretly didn’t follow through, it may also cause the landlord to be liable.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Login to RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area. Often, local users who've dealt with the same problem can provide helpful tips beyond the law, such as numbers for local non-profits or lawyers, tips about DIY fixes, and stories about judges.
Documenting the Problem
Tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord, and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free app that helps with each step of this process. Tenants can login for an easy way to track their problems, share updates with their roommates, keep their landlord notified, see laws for their state and locality, and chat with other tenants about taking action. RenterPeace also comes with a home management system to track chores, shopping, and finances. It's the ultimate, must-have app for every renter. Learn more.
Using Property Management Software
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but landlords can use RenterPeace for free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Learn more.