Legal Hotline: Does a Landlord Have Any Liability for Crimes Committed Against Tenants on Premise?

Does a landlord have any liability for crimes committed against tenants on the rental property premises?

A landlord may be liable for injuries caused to a tenant by a third party’s criminal act if the landlord’s negligence created an opportunity for the criminal act to occur. The landlord must have known, or should have known, that their failure to act created a situation that allowed a third party to commit a foreseeable crime.

Many landlords fear this liability, and, as a result, are tempted to institute criminal history screening policies that weed out prospective tenants with criminal histories. HUD has issued guidance on this issue, warning against blanket “no criminal history” policies because of the disparate impact they may have on minorities. The Fair Housing Act may be violated when a policy or practice has a disparate impact, meaning it has an unjustified discriminatory effect, even if there was no intent to discriminate.

Landlords should use caution when instituting prospective tenant screening policies based on criminal history to ensure that any policy serves a substantial, legitimate, and nondiscriminatory interest of the landlord, such as protection of the property or resident safety. For assistance drafting legally defensible criminal history based policies, we recommend reading NAR’s Fair Housing Act: Criminal History-Based Practices and Policies , HUD’s Office of General Counsel Guidance, and MAR’s guidance on HUD’s memo.