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 foresee-ability 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 (855) 757-4204.