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Do Landlords Have a Responsibility to Ensure Tenants are Protected from Assailants? Do Landlords Have to Provide Adequate Locks and Security Measures?

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In New York, the answers are an unequivocal YES. Landlords have a responsibility to ensure tenants are protected from assailants. Landlords have to provide adequate locks and security measures. New York Courts have made clear that landlords have a duty under the law to take precautions to ensure tenants are protected from foreseeable harm. Two recent cases decided by the Courts, Scurry v. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and Estate of Murphy v. New York City Housing Authority, reinforced the duty of landlords to maintain safe premises to protect tenants from assailants.

Both cases hinged on the failure of apartment complexes to provide proper locked doors. In Scurry, Boney was an ex-inmate that had been stalking his ex-lover for more than a year. One day, Boney was able to enter an apartment complex through a door that did not have a functioning lock. Boney proceeded to wait behind a corner until the victim arrived. he murdered the victim before committing suicide. The victim’s son ended up sustaining serious injuries due to burns caused by a fire Boney set. The son then sued the NYCHA for failure to “provide minimal security precautions to guard against the criminal acts of third persons.” The NYCHA moved to dismiss the case on the grounds that the pre-meditated nature of the attack was an intervening unforeseeable cause that severed any “causal connection.”

In Murphy, there was an escalating feud between two sets of people living in nearby apartment complexes. One day, two individuals from one group started to approach the victim and other individuals from the rival group. The victim and her friends fled to the inside of their apartment complex through a door that was supposed to be self-locking. However, the door did not lock and the two assailants were able to enter the building. They proceeded to shoot and kill the victim. The victim’s estate then sued NYCHA for negligence in failing to provide properly functioning locks. The NYCHA moved to dismiss on the grounds that the killing was an act of vengeance which a locked door would not have stopped. NYCHA also submitted statements from building officials that they had checked all the doors to ensure locks were working. However, video showed that the door failed to properly close and lock.

In both Murphy and Scurry the motions to dismiss failed.

According to the Court, landlords have a duty to “take minimal precautions to protect tenants from foreseeable harm, including a third party’s foreseeable criminal conduct.” This duty includes basic levels of security including functioning locks for exterior doors. The Court also rejected the argument that locked doors would have failed to deter either of the attacks. The Court stated that whether or not a locked door would have deterred the attacks is a decision of “fact” to be made by the jury. Further, the Court rejected the argument that the murders were “intervening causes” which would prevent the NYCHA from being liable. The Court stated that the crimes committed were the exact kind of events an apartment complex should foresee and one of the reasons they have locked doors in the first place.

Thus, the Court made clear landlords owe a duty to tenants to ensure doors and locks are working properly as part of their duty to maintain safe premises. If you were/are living in apartment complex and have suffered injury due to the failure of a landlord to provide a safe premises, it is important you contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.