Crime is intermeshed within the lives of California tenants residing in large cities.  Although no one wants to fall victim to a crime, it happens.  Questions for California tenants often arise regarding landlord obligations regarding crime and security.  When must a landlord take steps to prevent crime or take specific security requirements?  When is a landlord responsible for crime or security breaches at their property?  This article seeks to inform California tenants regarding their rights and obligations regarding crime and security.

Must Landlords Protect California Tenants From Crime?

Yes, landlords must protect California tenants from crime.  Secretary of Housing & Urban Development v. Layfield, 88 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 28, 30 (1978).  (“A landlord’s duty to provide security measures to protect tenants against crime… can be part of the implied warranty of habitability.”); Penner v. Falk, 153 Cal. App. 3d 858, 868-70 (1984) (California tenant that fell victim to crime in apartment hallway could maintain action against landlord for negligence.).  This obligation to protect against crime applies to the California tenant’s rental unit and the common areas at the property.  For example, a California tenant robbed in a dimly lit hallway at their apartment complex has a claim against their landlord for breach of the warranty of habitability for falling victim to the crime because it was foreseeable that the specific, or similar, crime could occur.

Landlords must protect California tenants from foreseeable criminal acts.  Kwaitkowski v. Superior Trading Co., 123 Cal. App. 3d 324, 333 (1981).  This means that the landlord must have knowledge of prior criminal events, and that the California tenant is susceptible to similar criminal conduct presently or in the future.  Margaret W. v. Kelley R., 139 Cal. App. 4th 141, 156-57 (2006).  Where the landlord was unaware of the potential for crime, or lacked reason to know, they will not be found to have a duty to protect against crime.  Hassoon v. Shamieh, 89 Cal. App. 4th 191, 1195 (2001).  With this in mind, California tenants should report any defects that could allow a security breach or crime to occur.  For example, California tenants would be remiss in failing to report any of the following known issues:

  • broken locks;
  • broken security gates;
  • broken window leaving the California tenant’s unit susceptible to intrusion;
  • inoperable surveillance cameras;
  • malfunctioning alarm systems; and,
  • sleeping on-duty security guards.

Additionally, California tenants should report all crime on or near the property to their landlord.  In doing so, the landlord will be held to have reason to anticipate that identical or similar criminal activity could occur on their property, and must take reasonable steps to protect against it.

Finally, California tenants may sue their landlords under a premises liability theory.  Sharon P. v. Arman, Ltd., 21 Cal. 4th 1181, 1188 (1999) (disapproved on other grounds by Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 25 Cal. 4th 826, 853 (2001).).

The law is clear, California tenants can expect protection from criminal conduct in their units and common areas.  Where the landlord fails to protect against crime, the California tenant has actionable claims, which they may bring in court.

Must Landlords Protect California Tenants From Crime Committed By Another Tenant?

Yes, landlords must protect California tenants from crimes committed by another tenant at the rental property where they know or should know that the tenant is committing the crime.  Madhani v. Cooper, 106 Cal. App. 4th 412, 415-18 (2003).

Must Landlords Warn California Tenants About Crime at the Rental Property?

Yes, California tenants are entitled to a warning about known crime at the rental property where the landlord does not provide adequate security.  O’Hara v. Western Seven Trees Corp., 75 Cal. App. 3d 798, 803-04 (1977).

Must Landlords Remove Individuals Known to Cause Crime at the Rental Property?

Yes, landlords must protect California tenants by removing or excluding individuals known to cause crime at the rental property.  Hawkins v. Wilton, 144 Cal. App. 4th 936, 943-45 (2006) (Landlord liable to California tenant suffering gunshot for failing to exclude individual known to be armed and frequently under the influence of methamphetamine.).

Must Landlords Protect California Tenants From Crime Not On Their Property?

No.  California tenants are not entitled to protection from their landlord for neighborhood crime.  The landlord is not responsible for crime unless it occurs on the rental property.  Rosenbaum v. Security Pac. Corp., 43 Cal. App. 4th 1084, 1091-94 (1996) (Landlords did not have liability for California tenant’s injuries sustained in an assault on public street abutting the rental property because the landlord had no control over the street.).  Assaults on public streets are not due to landlord negligence or breach of the implied warranty of habitability.  Id.

Relatedly, evidence of the community’s statistical crime rate is insufficient to demonstrate that a landlord had or should have had notice as to the potential for crime on the rental property.  Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Ctr., 6 Cal. 4th 666, 679 (1993) (disapproved on other grounds by Reid v. Google, Inc., 50 Cal. 4th 512, 527 (2010)).

Prior similar incidents at a similar, nearby building may be useful when suing the landlord for crime at the property.  Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza Shopping Ctr., 6 Cal. 4th 666, 679 (1993) (disapproved on other grounds by Reid v. Google, Inc., 50 Cal. 4th 512, 527 (2010).  However, the California tenant will likely need to demonstrate that the landlord had notice of those crimes.  Aguilar v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 25 Cal. 4th 826, 854 (2001).  So, a California tenant particularly fearful of crime might send notice of nearby criminal activity to their landlord.

What is the Best Law Firm to Handle California Tenant Crime Legal Claims?

Astanehe Law is the premiere landlord-tenant law firm to handle California tenant crime lawsuits against landlords.  Astanehe Law has successfully resolved numerous landlord-tenant cases throughout California, including for many tenants suffering rampant crime and security issues.  The firm only represents California tenants, and never landlords.  It is never too early to establish a relationship with an experienced California tenant attorney when the landlord fails to address known crime and security issues.  Contact Astanehe Law today to discuss your rights and options as a California tenant.