Outside the criminal justice system, victims of crime have strong legal options for compensation in civil court. Apartment owners who fail to provide adequate security can be held accountable.
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Every property owner in the United States has a basic duty to provide customers, guests, and residents with a reasonable level of security. That's true for apartment buildings and other residential rental properties, just as it's true for convenience stores, gas stations, and restaurants.
In some cases, tenants may fail to take adequate precautions to secure their apartments, such as locking doors and windows or investing in security measures. On the other hand, landlords must ensure the safety and security of their properties by maintaining proper lighting, functioning locks, and surveillance systems when necessary. Neglecting these responsibilities can lead to increased vulnerability to crimes like break-ins, shootings, stabbings, or mass shootings.
No one would shop at a store or rent an apartment if they knew the owner had left them vulnerable to violent crime. So, every state has a specific body of law to address security measures on commercial and residential properties. The result of these laws is that people who are injured during the commission of a crime may be able to hold a property owner accountable for their injuries.
According to state-based premises liability laws, property owners can be held liable for failing to establish adequate security precautions against crime. These laws provide crime victims and their families with powerful legal options to secure financial compensation.
When someone suffers severe injuries due to crime, their avenues for recourse can be limited. While every state now operates a crime victims' compensation fund, these programs only offer financing for a limited range of damages; most exclude so-called "pain and suffering" damages as a matter of course.
Another option is to file a civil lawsuit, demanding financial compensation in court. And since your injuries were directly caused by the actions of a criminal, it seems only reasonable to file suit against the offender himself or herself. As thousands of victims have learned, however, pursuing a criminal offender in a civil suit can be extremely difficult.
Offenders often lack the financial resources that would make filing a lawsuit worth it in the first place. Then, of course, there are the thousands of crimes committed every year for which the perpetrator cannot be located or even identified.
Premises liability laws create an alternative path for compensation. Instead of, or in addition to suing, a criminal offender, some victims and families will be able to file suit against the property owner whose negligence allowed the crime to occur.
As we've noted already, every state requires the owners of commercial and residential property to provide their lawful guests with adequate security. Property owners who fail to do so can be held accountable when their failure leads to severe personal injuries.
The legal picture we've outlined so far has been pretty simple. An apartment owner needs to provide adequate protection for renters and guests, in part to prevent crimes on the property. When the owner fails to do so, and a violent crime results in personal injuries or significant property damage, the victim can file a premises liability lawsuit.
That's the backbone of a negligent security claim, but in practice, this area of the law is far more complicated. Apartment owners can only be held accountable for negligence, at least where the criminal actions of a third-party offender are concerned.
Deciding what should constitute negligent security can be challenging. Appropriate security measures change based on an apartment building's location and the history of criminal activity in that neighborhood. In general, apartment buildings in high-crime areas will require better security than residential properties in low-risk neighborhoods.
The vast majority of courts take the concept of "foreseeability" into account. Property owners can only be held liable for allowing a crime to take place when they have reason to anticipate or foresee the crime's occurrence. The question thus becomes: did the property owner know that this type of crime was likely to occur, and further, did the owner turn a blind eye to that possibility?
The apartment building's history of crime becomes crucial here. Let's say an apartment complex is a notorious target for criminal activity. Residents call the police routinely to report crimes, including armed robbery. Under these circumstances, any reasonable owner would do their utmost to put proper security measures into place and prevent further crime from harming residents or their guests.
But in our example, the complex's owner doesn't do any of that. The company fails to fix broken locks and doesn't update the building's security cameras, which, by now, are over a decade old.
That sounds a lot like negligence, and, in all certainty, the apartment owner would be open to liability the next time someone at the complex is injured or killed in an armed robbery.
The extent of an apartment building owner's duty is also an open question. Most courts hold apartment owners accountable only for the security measures established in common areas since renters themselves retain a significant amount of control over what goes on inside their own units. Of course, anything that can't be controlled by the renter is the owner's responsibility:
A plaintiff will have to show sufficient evidence that the apartment building's security precautions weren't up to snuff, even though the owner knew (or should have known) that crime was likely to occur.
Were you or a loved one assaulted or robbed at an apartment building? You may be eligible to pursue significant financial compensation by filing a third-party negligent security lawsuit against the property's owner. To learn more about your legal options, contact our experienced victims' rights attorneys today for a free consultation.