Apartment premises liability litigation appears to be a growth industry.
- Multi-million dollar lawsuits against landlords are not unusual.
- What steps can a property owner take to minimize the liability risk?
Apartment Premises Liability: For Criminal Acts of Others
It’s no secret that victims of violent crime can sue a landlord or property manager for injuries received during a criminal assault on apartment premises. The legal theory is called premises liability. The demand for monetary damages can go into the millions for alleged physical and psychological injuries.
In recent years, jury awards have been so lucrative that the American Trial Lawyers Association produces an annual training seminar in Phoenix that teaches premises liability causes of action to plaintiff lawyers on how to prevail against landlords and property managers.
Apartment Premises Liability: A Litigation Nightmare
During a lawsuit, an apartment property is viewed under a judicial microscope, in a highly public forum. Your most confidential business records and personal financial records must be produced if so ordered by the court.
I know property owners who have literally turned their management offices upside-down looking for the critical documents that were never saved. Those documents would likely have mitigated their exposure.
As if to add insult to injury, these records produced during litigation sometimes get passed around to other plaintiff lawyers during the course of subsequent lawsuits. Not surprisingly, several property management careers have ended due to previously undisclosed indiscretions uncovered during the intense scrutiny of the manager’s backgrounds.
The process of litigation has a way of bringing out the worst flaws in property management because of the focus on the negative issues and imperfect decision-making.
Apartment Premises Liability: Defective Conditions
The largest jury awards usually involve stranger-to-stranger sexual assaults that occur inside an apartment unit. The question of access to the unit is always the focal point at issue.
Victim studies tell us that most rapists gain access through unlocked doors and windows. When a lawsuit is filed, however, the allegation often is that the door or window locking hardware was defective and allowed the rapist access.
As you can imagine, it would be difficult to defend against such a claim without having solid documentation of the actual condition of the door and door locks prior to the incident.
Apartment Premises Liability: Good Documentation is Critical
The best time to test and document the condition of the door and window locks and latches is during the unit walk-through with the incoming and outgoing residents. The leasing consultant and the new resident should test each lock and latch and document that the devices work properly and are in good condition. It’s not enough to state that all locks and latches are okay.
A better plan is to itemize the location and condition of each protected window and door opening. For example, list the condition of the sliding glass door and each bedroom window latches separately.
By modifying your existing walk-through form, you can easily document the incoming and outgoing condition of the hardware with each resident. If you supply secondary sliding door and window blocking and anti-lift devices, their presence and condition should also be noted on the form.
The form should include a resident signature certifying that they have observed you point out, demonstrate, and test each device and found them in good working order. In this way, you have evidence of two tests that the locks and latches were functioning. You should also add a line where the resident agrees to use the locking devices at all times and will report any defects immediately.
This procedure, coupled with good key control and lock maintenance, will provide your residents with adequate security in the unit and significantly reduce your exposure to lawsuits in this area.
Learn More about Premises Liability Litigation
Download the 115-page eBook written by Security Expert Chris E. McGoey
- Security Expert’s Guide to Premises Liability Litigation
- Evaluating Crime Foreseeability and Inadequate Security Cases
Chris McGoey has authored a tremendous practical guide about premises liability litigation for attorneys, security consultants, risk managers, landlords, law enforcement, and business operators.
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Premises Security Expert; Premises Liability Security Expert; Service area: Eastern and southern USA, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida. After 39 years of serving California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington.