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Liability Of Tenants And Landlords

Bad Tenants and the Landlord’s Responsibilities

Landlords are obligated to provide their tenants with reasonably safe places to live. In many states, this duty includes installing smoke alarms and sprinklers for fire protection, and peepholes and locks for security. What about protection from other tenants? Unlike the trespasser or intruder, the bad tenant who disturbs or endangers other tenants has some legal right to be on the property, creating a hazier legal question. An attorney with experience in landlord-tenant law can advise you about your state’s law on this subject.

Lease Requirements

Most written leases of property require tenants to refrain from disturbing other tenants. Some state laws also require tenants to conduct themselves in a manner that will not bother other tenants. It is the landlord’s responsibility to enforce this type of lease provision, since the landlord controls who rents property from him or her. A tenant who consistently disturbs other tenants may be in violation of his or her lease and of state law and the landlord should look at evicting him or her from the property.

Landlords may also include provisions in their lease agreements that explicitly prohibit tenants from engaging in illegal activities. If there is such a provision and a tenant violates it, the landlord should move quickly to evict the offending tenant.

Foreseeability

Landlords may be liable to tenants for bad acts of other tenants if those bad acts were reasonably foreseeable. In other words, if the landlord knew or should have known that a tenant might harm another tenant, the landlord may be liable if he or she did not take actions to protect the injured tenant.

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Special Relationship

What does “reasonably foreseeable” mean? It is, of course, impossible to predict anyone’s future behavior, but there are steps a landlord may easily take to screen potential tenants. We live in an age in which it is very easy to find out information about almost anyone, so finding out if a potential tenant may pose problems for other tenants is no more difficult than the credit and rental history background checks many landlords do as a matter of routine. Note that state or local law in your community may not allow a landlord to refuse to rent to someone on the basis of that person’s criminal record.

A “clean” result on a background check does not necessarily mean that it is not foreseeable that a tenant may cause problems. There are clues that may be apparent after a tenant moves in that make it foreseeable that a tenant will disturb or endanger other tenants. Some of these clues are:

  • Persistent, excessive noise
  • Numerous police calls
  • Heavy traffic in and out of the rented premises
  • Broken or missing security items, such as locks or alarms, in and around the leased premises

A landlord should act quickly when he or she learns of anything that makes it foreseeable that a tenant may harm or disturb other tenants.

Liability to the Public

In some cities or states, a landlord may be liable to the public at large for criminal acts committed by tenants on the landlord’s property. Penalties may range form monetary fines to revocation of a landlord’s license, or even condemnation of the property in extreme cases.

A landlord needs to keep a close watch on his or her property to avoid liability. The days of the truly absentee landlord are over in communities that make a landlord accountable for his or her properties. Careful screening of potential tenants, along with swift action to remove problem tenants, should help a landlord to avoid liability for tenants’ bad acts.

Conclusion

The responsibility of a landlord for the acts of a “bad” tenant varies from state to state, and even in different communities in the same state. An attorney with experience in landlord-tenant issues can analyze your situation and tell you what you need to know.

DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.