Criminal behavior is generally viewed as an unpredictable event, and therefore, outside of a landlord's control. Courts have consistently ruled that it is unjust to hold a landlord accountable for failing to prevent a crime. However, recently an Ohio Appellate Court did just that when they found a landlord liable for failing to protect their tenant from a violent crime.
In this case, the victim's complaints against another resident's un-leased roommate were ongoing and the lack of an appropriate response led to a verdict of negligence. The manager of the apartment complex listened to the victim's repeated complaints of harassment and advised her to file a report with the police. As the situation escalated, the manager requested that the other resident's boyfriend, against whom the complaints were being filed, complete a rental application and submit to a background check. The manager did not perform a criminal records search with the information collected on the submitted application, but did deny tenancy based on the fact that the boyfriend's credit report did not meet the facility's standards. The manager did not follow-through with an eviction.
The boyfriend was still living at the apartment complex when he broke into the victim's unit and then proceeded to beat and rape her in the presence of her young child. He was ultimately sentenced to nine years in prison. A civil suit against the apartment complex will proceed to trial before jury.
A great deal can be learned from this tragic case. As a landlord it is fundamental that you are available to assist in the removal of any potential safety threat. This process begins with an initial, consistent, and thorough screening process. At RSI we advise all of our clients that criminal history, credit history, eviction history and Social Security verification are essential to screening potential tenants. Additionally, anyone over the age of 18 living on the rental property should be screened, no matter what extenuating circumstances may come into play. Required criteria for approved residency should be well outlined and these standards should be upheld consistently either through denied tenancy or, when necessary, eviction.
For more information on establishing rental criteria and good tenant screening practices visit the Rental Services, Inc. website at: www.erentalservicesinc.com.