Tenants have every reason to place their safety high on the list of things important to them when looking for a new home. There are location factors a landlord can’t control but that does not limit their responsibility to their tenants. A landlord has a duty to provide safe premises. There are things about their property they can, and should, provide to offer safety to their tenants. We call those inside factors. There are also outside factors which a landlord can’t control. Yet, a landlord certainly can offer tools for risk mitigation.
Outside factors are more unpredictable but offer specific precaution options. Different areas present the possibility of criminal activity that may be a regular or an infrequent event. A landlord should consider what features their rental can offer to provide comfort to their tenants.
A nice feature for a landlord to offer is a built-in security system. Allow the tenants to connect with the monitoring company and set up their own account. Be sure that the Manager has instructions on how to disarm the system.
In multi-family properties a landlord should have provisions in their lease that deal with illegal activity on the premises. A landlord should act promptly to evict offenders when criminal activity has been cited.
Sometimes the safe premises issue is related to non-criminal activity. Natural events such as storms and flooding can be a peril to providing safe premises. If an owner knows there is a potential for flooding, tenants should be advised to avoid using areas for storage that are at risk.
Older buildings may not be maintained to current safety standards. Out of date electric or heating systems can cause peril to tenants. Providing smoke detectors and even carbon dioxide sensors is also a wise practice.
Every time a new tenant leases your property, they should be provided with keys and a reassurance the home has just been re keyed. It is a simple precaution but one that would be hard to explain if a landlord did not provide.
Here is a quick list of basic features to offer in a rental home to provide safe premises.
- Deadbolt locks- a double cylinder deadbolt provides an extra measure of safety where a broken glass pane is all that separates a thief and unlocking the deadbolt.
- Exterior lighting. Lots of exterior lighting provides some of the best safety possible.
- Trimmed and manicured landscaping eliminates places where unseen forced entry can be accomplished.
- Metal or solid wood doors provide much higher degrees of safety.
- Windows that lock will make every tenant feel safer and secure.
The Landlord’s Duty To Provide A Safe Premises
One of our tenants called the other day with a problem. Her back door lock was not working properly and she could not get the door secured. A picture of the door is here on this post. Unfortunately, the wood door had been warping for years and the lock set had been adjusted several times to allow it to work. We were pretty sure there was no more adjusting and the door would need to be replaced.
The picture of the problem with the door says it all. It is hard to believe but the owner did not see any problem. Our owner did not want to incur the expense. He wanted to come up with a different locking system. All suggestions were unsatisfactory as nothing would provide the tenant security. So, the issue became convincing the owner of a landlord’s duty to provide safe premises. And that was only going to occur by replacing the door with a metal or solid wood door and a deadbolt.
After some discussion we had to be blunt with the owner. The door must be replaced or you and our company could be liable for anything that occurs. We are not going to be exposed to that liability. The owner should not either. Providing a safe, secure, functioning door was also agreed to by the owner when they accepted the WILMOTH Standards of Habitability.
Damage Suspected To Be Caused By The Tenant
Sometimes there are good reasons to suspect the damage threatening the safety of the premises was actually caused by the tenant. Proving this responsibility may be difficult. If the resulting damage is causing safety concerns it will need to be resolved. Even if you are convinced the tenant caused the issue.
A common example of one of these safety issues is a broken pane of glass in a window. These can occur from rocks, baseballs, or even gunshots. Did the negligence occur from the tenant or their guests actions? Or from a neighbor or a random person? Unless the tenant tells you their son hit a baseball into the window (not likely) how do you prove who is liable? We have had owners declare that it is the tenant’s responsibility to fix the window and they were not going to do so. While our lease states exactly that, it also states if the break is a result of the tenant or their guests actions. This is very hard to prove unless the tenant admits it.
Courts and The Landlord’s Duty To Provide A Safe Premises
It does not take long to search the internet to find courts deeming landlords to have a duty to provide a safe environment. These court actions interpret that the landlord also has a duty to reasonably provide a tenant protection from harm. We should not need court actions to focus on this responsibility. The dispute is usually with an owner placing the tenant to blame for the needed repair. If it involves tenant security, fix it now and figure out if there is any tenant obligations after reviewing the repairs.
Courts throughout the USA have interpreted statutory obligations of landlords to include a number of duties to their tenants. One of these is to take reasonable measures to protect tenants from foreseeable harm that might result from conditions on the premises.
While not specifically spelled out as an ongoing specific duty in the Indiana landlord statutory obligations, there are several obligations where duties can easily be interpreted to include providing a safe premises. In particular “comply with all health and housing codes applicable to rental premises” is an obligation. This statement is so broad in scope most adverse landlord actions for repairs could be legally enforced by requesting enforcement of the statute as it relates to this obligation.
It is always in a rental owners best interest to provide safe premises for their tenants. The tenant is your customer and like any business, the customer has to be trusted. The goodwill that comes with showing empathy and concern goes a long way toward happy, and long-term customers. With any breach of safety, the owner’s actions will allow their tenant to feel better about their decision to live in your property.