A 1998 study by a security consulting firm showed that apartment complexes are about the most often sued business there is. Even insurance nightmares like: bars, shopping malls and hospitals have fewer claims of liability and negligence than apartment community owners and managers.
The primary reasons people sue are for criminal acts against them or accidents that occur on the property.
People expect to feel safe and secure in their own home. When we leave our "shelter" for the shopping mall, movies, sports event or other public places, we are more alert to possible threats to our safety. We instinctively watch for the unknown and possible dangerous situations; whether broken sidewalks, unsafe stairs, or suspicious strangers. Home is a place to let down our guard and relax.
A recent study of judgments and awards indicates that judges and juries share the notion that people are entitled to be safe in their home. When they are not, someone is likely to be made to pay. You will learn on this page that property managers rank among those most likely to be sued and that apartment communities lead the list. Property owners and managers need to help tenants understand, however, that an apartment community is just that; a microcosm of the community it is located in. The same care must be taken in interaction with neighbors as they would do elsewhere.
The most common criminal acts that lead to lawsuits against landlords in apartment communities are assault and battery. They represent about 41 % of the cases. Those cases are followed in descending order by rape or sexual assault, wrongful death, and robbery. Most criminal acts on rental property occur in unlocked common areas like parking lots or garages. As a result, a claim of negligence against the property owner or manager is almost always related to inadequate lightning or security.
Slip and fall accidents in the common areas and other maintenance-related accidents lead the list of issues that are not security related.
The primary reason that contingency lawyers pursue law-suits against property owners is that there is something to get. The usual issues in premises liability cases are:
Over a recent 5-year period, 1993 to 1997, nearly 800 cases were analyzed regarding the kind of business most likely to be sued. The results of that study are depicted in the following chart.
It is clear that apartment complexes, more than most other types businesses, are likely targets for lawsuits. You should note that property managers and even security companies also made the top ten.
Although more than 50% of the cases that went to trial were decided in favor of the landlord, these "winning" landlords lost the substantial cost of defending themselves. We need also note that many landlord liability cases don't ever get to trial because insurance companies decide that a settlement will be less expensive than defending even unwarranted allegations.
No matter how conscientious and knowledgeable property owners and managers are, lawsuits will always be part of the cost of doing business in the U.S. The best defense is the ability to demonstrate by records and actions that every reasonable effort was made to keep rental properties safe and well maintained. The only other means we have to combat the problem is through political activism. Please read the RHOL Political Page.
Now also read our page on Limiting Landlord Liability.
The above topics are discussed in much more depth
on our members' Landlord's Exposure is Indecent page.