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Tenant Safety and Landlord Liability

Many tenants are justifiably concerned about their safety as they seek out a new home. Older apartments may be coated in lead based paint or use insulation containing asbestos. In addition, certain neighborhoods may play host to various kinds of criminal activity. While landlords are often responsible for ensuring the safety of their tenants, there are certain activities tenants can do to protect themselves.

Safety and Criminal Activity

Ensuring that a building is free from criminal activity is usually the landlord's responsibility. Many jurisdictions require that each apartment has a deadbolt and pin lock in the door handle so that tenants can adequately secure their living space. Depending on the crime statistics of the surrounding area, landlords may want to take other sensible precautions like installing exterior lights or trimming tall hedges to discourage criminal activity and increase visibility.

Landlords must also keep their buildings free of illegal activity, such as the manufacture and distribution of illegal drugs. Most leases have a provision prohibiting any sort of illegal activity within the rental units. If the landlord discovers illegal activity he or she may evict the tenant on that basis alone.

Safety and Dangerous Buildings

The other major threat to tenant safety may be the building itself. Older buildings might not conform to current safety codes or may contain lead or other dangerous chemicals. Many cities and states require landlords to disclose environmental toxins to tenants before tenants sign the lease. They may also require certain kinds of fire exits or smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in each unit. While landlords are typically required to make reasonable repairs to improve building safety, they're generally not required to undertake major renovations before leasing a property.

What Tenants Can Do

Even though it's primarily the landlord's duty to make sure the apartment building is safe, there are some common-sense things tenants can do to protect themselves.

  • When researching potential apartments, learn about the crime statistics of the area. That way, you can evaluate whether the safety precautions the landlord has taken are adequate.
  • When viewing potential apartments, ask questions about when the apartment was built and the material used. Take note of the condition of the smoke detectors, electrical sockets, appliances, and ventilation systems.
  • Purchase renters' insurance. These plans are usually inexpensive and will compensate tenants in the event their possessions are stolen.
  • Make your apartment safe. Be sure to keep all doors and windows locked and valuables out of sight. Any precautions a landlord may take are useless if the tenants do not take advantage of them.

For more information, see FindLaw's Tenant Rights section and state by state resources.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified real estate attorney to help you
navigate any landlord-tenant issues.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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