How much liability does a Landlord have for a Tenant’s actions?
Look just about anywhere and you will find plenty of information on tenant’s rights, but what about the landlord? What rights does the landlord have, particularly when it comes to the actions of the tenants? More specifically, how much liability is the landlord exposed to as a result of their tenants’ actions in NYC?
Fortunately for landlords, they aren’t automatically opened up to risk simply by being the property owner. In most cases, it must be proven that the landlord had evidence that a crime or injury was likely to be perpetrated by the tenant. This is called foreseeability and it is crucial to assessing liability against landlords.
Of course, the need for foreseeability doesn’t mean that you won’t be sued. Lawsuits can be very broad and the claimants will try to ensnare as many people as they can in the hopes of landing a settlement. If you ever do receive a summons or are sued, contact your own lawyer immediately.
Common areas of risk
Even with the protections that foreseeability provides, there are still a few areas that pose an unusual risk for a landlord.
- Pets. One of the biggest areas of liability comes in the form of pets, especially dogs. If a tenant’s dog attacks someone while on the landlord’s property, the landlord could find him or herself on the receiving end of a lawsuit, along with the tenant/dog owner. However, simply leasing a unit to the dog owner does not make a landlord liable for any injuries the dog causes, because the landlord is not considered to be legally responsible for the dog. In order for a landlord to be held responsible for the injuries, he or she must have:
– known ahead of time that the dog was dangerous and did nothing to have the dog removed, or
– “harbored,” cared for, or had some control over the dog.
This gets back to the foreseeability issue. If the landlord knew or could foresee that the dog was dangerous and did nothing about it, then the landlord could be held liable.
- Unpaid Utilities. Another common area of concern for landlords is unpaid utility bills. Many wonders if they’ll be held responsible for any of the tenant’s unpaid bills. Unless the utility was set up in the landlord’s name, the landlord cannot be held responsible for unpaid bills because they were not the ones to set up the contract for service. If the utilities were set up in the landlord’s name and the bills passed on to the tenant, the landlord has more liability.
- Criminal Acts and Activities. Landlords must keep their property in reasonably safe condition and take actions to protect the tenants from criminal acts, but what if a tenant is perpetrating the crime? Again, if the criminal acts were foreseeable, or if the landlord knew that the tenant was engaging in criminal activities and did nothing about it, he or she could be held liable for the tenant’s actions. In most cases, the landlord wouldn’t be held responsible for any injuries a tenant inflicts on another person while on the property unless he or she influenced the tenant to injure the other person.
- Nuisance Behaviors. The courts have found landlords liable for the conduct of their tenants in certain situations. If the landlord knows of the tenant’s nuisance or unlawful behaviors, he or she must take actions to protect their other tenants, the property’s neighbors, and others who are affected by the tenant’s behavior. New York is especially tough on landlords who permit nuisance behaviors, and in many cases, the landlord will be held liable for tenants that create nuisances such as harassing others, barking dogs, loud music, drugs and alcohol, litter, etc. It’s in the landlord’s best interests to evict nuisance tenants as soon as it becomes obvious that there will be ongoing problems.
- Tenant Negligence. Landlords have been found liable for damages caused by tenant negligence, such as leaks caused by letting the bathtub overflow, fire from overloading an outlet, etc.
Reducing your liability exposure
There’s a reason every landlord attorney will advise you to conduct a thorough background check and screening of your tenant applicants. This is the best way to identify possible areas of risk and limit your exposure to liability for the actions of your tenants. Other ways to reduce your risk are:
- Not accepting cash payment for rent.
- Watching out for and reporting suspicious activity on the property.
- Adding provisions in the lease that specifically state that criminal acts will not be tolerated and are grounds for immediate eviction.
- Investigate complaints from other tenants and neighbors about criminal activity.
- Ban dogs/pets from the premises or at least ban vicious breeds. Consult your insurer to find out which breed they deem vicious. Attacks by these breeds will not be covered by your insurance policy, which increases your liability even more.
Protect yourself with help from a Landlord attorney in NYC
These are just a few examples of how landlords can be held liable for the actions of their tenants. Consulting with a landlord-tenant attorney is the best way to protect yourself from this type of liability. NYC landlord attorneys can identify areas of risk and recommend solutions or changes to the lease agreement that will help protect you if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of legal action.
To learn more about your rights and protections as a landlord, contact the team at Brasch Legal at 212-267-2500