Landlords Can (sometimes) be Held Liable for a Third-party’s Criminal Acts Against Tenants
November 10, 2021 By Mark A. Kohl
Generally, when a tenant takes possession of premises from a landlord, the tenant becomes the de facto owner and occupier of the leased premises for the duration of the lease. In the classic scenario the landlord owes no duty to the tenant to protect him from the criminal actions of a third-party. However, in Ford v. Edmondson Vill. Shopping Ctr. Holdings, LLC, 251 Md. App. 335, 254 A.3d 138, cert. denied, 2021 Md. LEXIS 515 (2021) the Court of Special Appeals clarified that, under narrow circumstances, a landlord could be liable for a third-party’s criminal acts.
In Ford, a shopping center leased a portion of its premises to a retail store. The store’s manager was killed during a robbery. The manager’s representative and family filed survivor and wrongful death claims against the shopping center, alleging that the shopping center should have been aware of dangerous and violent conditions it permitted to develop in the center’s common areas. The Plaintiffs further alleged that the shopping center owed a duty to the store’s manager to mitigate those conditions.
The shopping center moved to dismiss after service, arguing that as a landlord it owned no duty to a tenant inside the tenant’s leased premises. The Circuit Court agreed and granted the motion to dismiss. The Court of Special Appeals reversed, holding that, if true, the allegations of the complaint were sufficient to state a claim. The appellate court reasoned the general rule did not apply because the hazard the shopping center should have been aware of (criminal activity) developed and occurred in areas still occupied or managed by the landlord (common areas).
The Court of Special Appeals did not clarify what facts would be sufficient to support a judgment against a landlord. The ruling however clearly holds that landlords can be sued when criminal activity it should have been aware of spills over into a tenant’s leased premises. This ruling is of particular importance for landlords and their carriers in assessing claims for hazards arising in common areas and in assessing opportunities to address them before a claim arises.