Preventing Crime In and Around Rental Property
In almost every state, responsibility for preventing crime and protecting tenants from crime that occurs on a rental property falls to some degree on the landlord. In fact, the landlord has a duty to use reasonable precaution to protect tenants from foreseeable harm caused by criminal acts. The following is a list of actions a tenant can take to help ensure that a rental unit and the surrounding property are safe and secure.
Check Whether Security Measures Comply with Local and State Laws
A landlord must comply with city and state regulations of rental property. A few states have specific laws that regulate the security a landlord must provide tenants, but it is more common for local ordinances to require security measures, such as peepholes and deadbolt locks. Copies of housing regulations are available from the local library and from the city. If a landlord has violated a regulation, the tenant may report it to the agency that enforces those regulations.
In many states, even if specific security regulations do not apply, courts will sometimes hold landlords liable for not preventing crime that occurs because of a violation of the implied warranty of habitability. For instance, if an assailant gains entrance into a building through an unlocked door that the landlord was aware was broken but failed to fix for a long time, the landlord may be partially liable for damages because the defect substantially contributed to the assailant's commission of the crime.
Be Aware of the Landlord's General Responsibility to Act with "Due Care"
The law requires a landlord to act reasonably under the circumstances. This means that a landlord must take reasonable steps to provide security measures that will protect tenants from foreseeable criminal activity. In general, courts may find that preventing crime is the responsibility of the landlord when:
- The landlord controls the area where the crime occurs. Landlords control common areas, such as a lobby, but not sidewalks outside of the property.
- It is foreseeable that a crime would occur. Prior criminal activity on the property or in the neighborhood creates an increased responsibility on the landlord to protect tenants from future crime.
- The landlord failed to take reasonable steps to prevent a foreseeable crime. A history of crime in a neighborhood, for example, enhances the duty of a landlord to take reasonable steps to prevent criminal activity on the property.
- A security measure that could reduce the risk criminal activity is inexpensive and easy to carry out. Trimming tall bushes, installing lighting, or installing new locks is reasonable.Expensive fixes, like remodeling a building, however, are unreasonable.
- The landlord's failure to take reasonable steps caused or contributed to a crime. The crime was foreseeable and the landlord could have taken reasonable steps to prevent it.
Make the Landlord Accountable for Security Promises
If a landlord makes an oral or a written promise in an advertisement, a lease, or a rental agreement about specific security measures for a building, the tenants have the right to benefit from those promises. The failure of a landlord to provide a promised security feature or to maintain security measures already in place may lead to the landlord's liability if the failure to provide or maintain the specific security feature contributed to a crime.
Search for Potential Security Breaches
An effective way of preventing crime is for the tenant to inspect the property. If trimming bushes or installing lighting in a dim area of a parking lot will enhance security, a tenant may make suggestions and specific requests of the landlord. As discussed above, a landlord must take reasonable precautions to protect tenants from crime.
File a Complaint with the Landlord about Security Problems
A tenant that discovers a security breach, such as a broken lock or a broken window, should inform the landlord. A landlord should fix the security measure immediately to prevent criminal activity and to protect tenants.
Fix the Problem and Charge the Landlord
If local or state code requires the implementation of a security measure, a landlord is required to provide this feature. However, a tenant may fix the problem and charge the landlord for the cost or sue the landlord for reimbursement in small claims court. In Texas, for instance, a tenant may deduct the cost of installing a security feature from the rent or move out.
If, on the other hand, the law does not provide a specific security measure, altering the rental unit without the consent of the landlord may violate a condition in the lease agreement or the rental agreement. Consequently, the landlord may be able to evict the tenant.
Move Out of the Rental Unit
In some circumstances, when a history of criminal activity is present and the landlord fails to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of tenants, a tenant may be able to legally break the lease and move out if the landlord fails to fix the problem within a reasonable time.
Obtain Renters' Insurance
As a precaution against theft, a tenant may obtain renters' insurance. If a burglar, for example, steals a tenant's personal property, renters' insurance will provide reimbursement up to the maximum amount of the insurance policy. Various coverage amounts are available, including policies for $20,000 and even $50,000.