If you are a tenant renting either a residential or a commercial property, you may think of your landlord as simply the person whom you pay your monthly rent. Florida law, however, recognizes that there is more to the landlord-tenant relationship than merely leasing space for one to live or conduct their business.
Besides just providing a place for someone to live, a landlord has many different responsibilities to their tenant. Likewise, a tenant has different responsibilities to the property owners as well. In this article, we will focus on just one responsibility the property owner has towards the tenant: security.
Under Florida law, a property owner has a duty to protect their tenant from ‘reasonably foreseeable criminal conduct’. Basically, a landlord bears some responsibility to their tenants to prevent and protect them from crime. This is a form of premises liability.
What does this mean for the area of personal injury law? It means that if you are ever in the frightening situation of being a victim to a crime on your landlord’s property, you may have a claim against them for damages resulting from your injuries.
This type of claim is often referred to as a landlord’s “negligent failure to provide adequate security.” In order to hold the property owner liable for your injuries, Florida courts have found that the injured party (as the plaintiff) has the burden of proof. This means the plaintiff must prove that the landlord had knowledge of prior similar criminal conduct occurring on the premises. [See T.W. v. Regal Trace, Ltd., 908 So. 2d 499, 503 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005).]
Duty of Care
Florida courts have routinely found that a property owner has a duty to ensure a tenant’s safety in common areas of the premises and in the individual units leased to a residential tenant. Accordingly, a landlord can be found to be negligent for breaching its duty to ensure a tenant’s safety and by failing to provide adequate security in the building. Additional factors surrounding a criminal attack on a tenant have been found to support a plaintiff’s claim against a landlord for negligent failure to provide adequate security. These include circumstances such as:
Crime being prevalent in the area,
The landlord assuring the tenant there was excellent security,
And, the landlord’s disregard of recommendations regarding the use of a security guard.
[See L.K. v. Water’s Edge Association, 532 So. 2d 1097 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988).]
In a commercial setting, such as when a property owner leases out a retail space, the property owner’s duty to protect the tenant from reasonably foreseeable criminal conduct may also include protecting the tenant’s guests, customers, or employees. For example, if there is a reason for the landlord to know of prior criminal conduct on the property or in the area, the landlord could be responsible for a customer being attacked in a shopping center parking lot.
One of the key factors to successfully bringing a claim for negligent failure to provide security in these types of cases involves the issue of whether or not the landlord had reason to foresee a criminal attack—i.e., whether the attack was or could have been predictable by the landlord. This determination is a question for members of a jury to answer since they are responsible for determining questions of facts surrounding a case at trial. Florida courts have found that an attack is “foreseeable”, and thus a landlord can be held liable for a tenant’s injuries, when the landlord knows of criminal activity in the surrounding area, even if there have been no specific criminal incidents on his own property.
Before you are ever attacked and in the position to need compensation for your crime-related injuries, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from these situations and to ensure your landlord is fulfilling their duty.
Check Security Measures
A landlord must comply with city and state regulations of rental property. These local ordinances may require security measures like peepholes, deadbolt locks, fences, etc. Copies of housing regulations can be found at your local library, city hall, or online. You should familiarize yourself with the local laws are in your area and then ensure that your landlord is following them.
Responsibility to Act with “Due Care”
The law requires a landlord to act reasonably under the circumstances. This means that a landlord should take reasonable steps to prevent crime and provide security measures. The landlord must do this in areas they directly control, like a courtyard, a lobby, and a residence. They would not control things like the street or sidewalk out front.
Prior criminal activity on the property or in the neighborhood creates an increased responsibility on the landlord to protect tenants from future crime. Because they know there is a heightened chance of crime, they must heighten their security measures. Of course, all these expectations must be reasonable. This means trimming tall bushes, ensuring proper lighting, or installing new locks; remodeling the entire property is not reasonable.
Sometimes, the smallest change can make all the difference. Locks and lights may be the difference between safety and something tragic, like being assaulted in your own apartment.
Find and Report Potential Security Breaches
A great way to ensure that you’re never the victim of crime on your rental property is to inspect it for safety concerns yourself. If the light in front of your building needs to be replaced, make note of it. If the lock on your bedroom window does not work, make a note. Once you are aware of the security concerns on your property, you should promptly mention them to the owner in writing. The landlord then has an obligation to fix the security measure within a reasonable amount of time.
Hold Property Owner Accountable
If you report a concern, follow-up to ensure that it’s fixed. It’s so easy to forget about little things, but if comes down to it, you’ll either be happy you were proactive or disappointed you weren’t. Likewise, a landlord has a responsibility to maintain security measures already in place. For example, if they no longer shut the front gate at night, they may be found liable for failing to provide or maintain the specific security feature which contributed to the crime.
Obtain Renters’ Insurance
Finally, one of the best things your can do to protect yourself as a tenant is to obtain renters’ insurance. This will protect, at least, the damaged or stolen property that may occur during a crime.
Since renters do not have other protections, like homeowners insurance, this is a good idea. If security is still a major concern, either demand the landlord fix the security issues or demand to be released from your contract so you can move. You should pursue this all the all the way to small claims court, if necessary.
Dolman Law Group
If you are a tenant who has been the victim of an attack on your landlord’s property, you may have a claim for negligence. In order to successfully bring your case, you need the right law firm on your side conducting a thorough investigation into whether your landlord should have known the attack was likely to occur.
Thorough investigations into all the facts surrounding these types of cases are critical to holding the responsible party liable for your injuries. If you’ve been injured as the result of a landlord’s failure to hire a security guard, utilize security cameras, or install proper lighting in common areas, you may have a claim. Dolman Law Group has private investigators on staff to aid our attorneys in investigating these claims and will work diligently and zealously to ensure you receive the justice you deserve.
Contact Dolman Law Group for a free case evaluation and consultation. You can always read more about our qualifications and experience on our website.
You can also reach us by phone at (727) 451-6900 or by sending us an email on our ‘contact us’ page.