Landlord Liability for Violent Crime in North Carolina

Are landlords responsible for the lawless behavior of third parties on their property? Under certain circumstances, a landlord in North Carolina can be held liable for the personal injuries a victim suffers from a criminal assault. Traditionally, the deliberate act of a third person was seen as separate from any responsibility of a landlord. The North Carolina Supreme Court has held that “[o]rdinarily a store owner is not liable for injuries . . . which result from the intentional criminal acts of third parties” because a store owner usually cannot foresee such acts occurring. But what if an area had such a high incidence of crime that a landlord could foresee assaults occurring if he did not take reasonable steps to deter them?

The key to landlord liability is the foreseeability of the assault based on criminal activity in the area. Landlords do not have an affirmative duty to keep visitors safe. However, they do have a duty to exercise reasonable care to maintain premises in a condition that allows visitors to use the premises safely as intended. Prior criminal activity in the area could create a duty for the landlord to take reasonable steps, such as:

  • Installing lights to illuminate dark areas
  • Installing surveillance cameras
  • Hiring a security guard
  • Locking exterior doors to allow access by tenants only
  • Installing a buzzer system for access to a building

All of the measures cited above are considered standard in today’s world. Therefore, landlords may easily be found liable for a criminal assault if crime statistics for the area support the conclusion that criminal assault is foreseeable, and the landlord fails in any of these ways:

  • To maintain lighting fixtures in a parking structure, so that one or more areas are obscured in darkness
  • To repair apartment building buzzer system, so that tenants cannot verify a person’s identity before buzzing them in
  • To repair apartment building buzzer system, so tenants cannot buzz a visitor in. Tenants begin propping a door open so their guest can come up, which allows access to persons with criminal intent.

 These are just a few scenarios where a landlord might be liable for facilitating a criminal assault. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a criminal assault, ask a knowledgeable personal injury attorney to evaluate your case.  To schedule a free consultation at Lanier Law Group, P.A., call 919.848.2000.

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