Is a Landlord Liable for Crimes Committed by Strangers?

Unfortunately, crime is everywhere. And when a crime occurs on a rental property, it raises some unique issues for landlords and tenants. Generally, under Illinois Law, a landlord has no duty to protect a tenant from the criminal actions of third parties (i.e. strangers.)  The landlord is responsible for controlling his building and the condition of it, not the conduct of strangers and the public at large.

However, under very specific circumstances, landlords in Illinois can be held liable for the wrongful acts of someone else. Whether you're a landlord or a renter, you should know some things about how the criminal acts of someone who is not a tenant of the building can impact you. Here are three conditions under which a landlord can be held legally responsible for a crime committed on his property:

If There is a “Special Relationship”

The law does recognize a duty to protect others from criminal actions by third parties where there is a so-called special relationship between the parties. Illinois courts have recognized several different types of special relationships, such as the relationship between a prisoner and a jailer, a store owner and a patron, or a hotel owner and a hotel guest.

The Illinois Supreme Court has determined long ago that the relationship between a landlord and a tenant is not a special relationship that imposes a duty by the landlord to protect the tenant against the criminal acts of others.

If the Landlord Does Not Fulfill A Promise to Provide Security Measures

Even when a special relationship does not exist, a landlord may still be liable to his tenant for the criminal acts of a stranger if the landlord has voluntarily assumed to provide security measures, but performs these measures negligently.

For example, your lease calls for working lights outside of all entrance doors into the apartment and working locks on all entranceway doors. You and several other tenants in your building complain several times to the landlord that that the security lights or locks are not working.

If burglars later rob your apartment and you are injured, you may have grounds for a successful lawsuit against your landlord alleging negligence in failing to provide security measures that were promised.

If the Crime Was Foreseeable

Whether your lawsuit will succeed largely depends on a jury's opinion of whether a reasonable landlord would have foreseen the probability of the crime occurring. It must be shown that the criminal attack was foreseeable. Usually, this means that there was some history, even if on a single occasion, of a past criminal attack by a third party similar to the kind of attack involved in your case.
 
By working together, landlords and renters can successfully reduce crime and improve the quality of life in rental communities. However, if you have been the victim of a crime in your rental community, the landlord may be responsible for your damages. Should you be the unfortunate victim of criminal conduct, the personal injury lawyers at Lipkin & Higgins will explain your rights to you, thoroughly investigate your case, and prosecute it to the full extent to the law.