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As a landlord, are there liabilities if one of your tenants in one of your owned properties assault, sexually or not, a fellow tenant living in the same property?

What about if there is assault by a tenant on your property against someone that isn't your tenant? Are there connected repercussions as the landlord of the victim or assaulter?

Edit to provide more detail:

If say the landlord is seeking a new tenant, and after adequate background checks, the new tenant is welcomed and joins an existing tenant in the property. However, assume at some point during the contract, the new tenant comes back to the property intoxicated, and assaults the existing tenant on the landlord's property.

Is the landlord liable, or is the victim tenant able to sue the landlord, given that the property itself did not play a role in the crime, and that the landlord did not have reasonable grounds to believe the new tenant had tendencies to commit assault as background checks were done? Since it is a completely behavioral act on the incoming tenant's part, surely the landlord is not responsible?

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  • @JirkaHanika thank you, added a scenario of interest
    – user14142
    Jun 14 '20 at 14:38
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    Where in the world are you?
    – gsnedders
    Jun 14 '20 at 17:45
  • @gsnedders I live in the UK, but I am specifically interested in jurisdictions in Canada and New York. However, any general insight is appreciated, including California.
    – user14142
    Jun 14 '20 at 18:00
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The landlord is not free of liability risks. In California, everybody is responsible for injury brought about by lack of ordinary care or skill in management of his or her property or person. This applies to landlords, falling under Business Proprietor’s Liability for the Criminal Conduct of Others. Therefore the landlord must use reasonable care to protect tenants and guests from another person's harmful conduct on the property if the conduct can be can reasonably anticipated. The duty is towards anyone on tenants and guests alike. To figure out whether the landlord has breached his duty of care, the courts will "balance" the probability of harm to the tenant with the burden of the duty imposed on the landlord to prevent or mitigate the risk of harm, see Vasquez v. Residential Investments, Inc., 118 Cal. App. 4th 269. In that instance, the landlord failed to replace a missing pane of glass on the front door, contributing to the tenant's murder, for which the landlord was held liable (wrongful death). This ruling has extensive discussion of that balancing act. The crucial question is, how did the assault happen, and how do the landlords actions relate to the assault?

The answer may be different in other jurisdictions.

In the modified scenario, liability would hinge on scenario details (I'll continue to assume California). The factual question is whether in light of the background check, the assault was foreseeable, and to what extent it was preventable – what did the landlord do wrong? For instance, if the criminal history check revealed a number of arrests for assault in the state and the check was limited to CA (the new tenant moved to CA just a year ago), and if the assault was in old-tenant's room which had no lock due to landlord indifference, then the landlord is more likely to be held liable (he could have fixed the lock for a few dollars, or paid for a better criminal check). On the other hand, if a thorough criminal check reveals no arrests or complaints for anything, anywhere, and the assault happened in the common area while talking politics, there is no reasonable course of action that the landlord could have undertaken to prevent the assault (hiring 24 hour guards would not be reasonable, in this scenario). In Vasquez, the issue came down to the landlord's failure to implement a cheap fix on the front door.

In a third version of your scenario, suppose that there was some evidence of past violent behavior, but the only fault that could be assigned to the landlord is the fact of renting to the new tenant. Does a landlord have a duty to deny housing to a person with a past record of violent behavior? It is legal in California to do background checks and deny a prospective tenant a lease based on existing criminal history, as long as the criteria are applied consistently (not discriminatorily), and not in a jurisdiction where criminal checks are illegal (Oakland). There is a non-fantasy scenario where that includes "the US", given a guidance from HUD, based on a disparate impact analysis. HUD says that a housing provider excluding applicants with arrest but no conviction "cannot satisfy its burden of showing that such policy or practice is necessary to achieve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest". If there are convictions and there is a blanket no-convict policy, the provider

must still be able to prove that such policy or practice is necessary to achieve a substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interest. A housing provider that imposes a blanket prohibition on any personw ith any conviction record –no matter when the conviction occurred, what the underlying conduct entailed, or what the convicted person has done since then – will be unable to meet this burden

If it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of past convictions, a landlord cannot be held liable for obeying the law. In short, "it depends (on minute details and whether the plaintiff's lawyer makes the necessary arguments): ask your attorney".

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  • Thank you for the detailed response. Extremely insightful!
    – user14142
    Jun 14 '20 at 18:01
  • This answer seems to equate landlord's "duty to deny housing" with "legality to background checks" while the only obvious implication of the two is that illegal background checks are not landlord's duty. Whether the standard of "ordinary care" includes the purchase of every possible-and-reasonably-fast-and-cheap risk mitigation service is not obvious to me from this answer as it stands. Jun 15 '20 at 6:52
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No

People are responsible for their own crimes and torts. A landlord’s obligations to third parties is limited to acts and omissions of the landlord, not the tenant.

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  • This isn't strictly true and depends on your juristiction Jun 14 '20 at 12:48

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