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LANDLORDS CAN BE SUED FOR ACTIONS OF THEIR TENANTS

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The California Court of Appeals ruled that a landlord could be sued after one of his tenants shot and beat a visitor. The court stated that, since the landlord knew of the violent propensity of the tenant, and of his dislike of the victim, the landlord had a legal duty to do something to reduce the risk of violence.

The victim was a former tenant of the apartments who often visited relatives that still lived there. The tenant had a history of aggressive conduct and had previously brandished a firearm at visitors and other tenants. The property manager had been informed in writing of a prior incident involving the tenant and the victim’s family. An expert witness testified for the victim and said that the landlord should have reported the prior violent incidents to the police and that failing to do so created an unreasonable risk of harm.

The lawsuit accused the landlord of negligence in that the landlord owed the victim a “duty of reasonable care” and a “duty to take reasonable action to protect him from harm.” The victim also accused the landlord of “failing to provide security for the victim from known threats and conditions present at the rented premises.” The landlord asked the court to not allow the lawsuit to go forward because he did not owe any duty to the victim. The landlord’s main argument was that no additional security procedures were needed and that it is unreasonable to require landlords to hire security guards to protect visitors that may have problems with tenants. The landlord also argued that the law requires proof that the tenant had committed a “nearly identical prior crime” before a duty to protect visitors could be implied. The court did not agree with the landlord and stated that the law only requires the victim to show “prior similar criminal incidents” not “nearly identical criminal incidents” in order to hold the landlord responsible

The court said, “A duty to take affirmative action to control the wrongful acts of a third party will be imposed only where such conduct can be reasonably anticipated.” The court cited the case of Frances vs. Village Green Owners Assn. where it was determined that an association is potentially liable for injuries caused by third party criminal conduct when it was aware of past similar crimes occurring on the property and of circumstances making a similar occurrence likely.”

The court went on to say that the landlord “failed to address whether his duty of maintenance as a landlord included measures less burdensome than hiring guards to deal with the foreseeable risk that the tenant posed.” The court found that the lawsuit covered other actions that the landlord should have taken. This could include investigating the incident to determine if the violent tenant should be evicted, threatening to evict the violent tenant or calling the police, especially in view of the prior dangerous incident involving the tenant and the use of a gun.

Therefore, the Court of Appeals refused the landlord’s request to disallow the lawsuit, which went back to the original court for trial or voluntary settlement of the claim. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®