Can a Landlord be Liable for a Tenant Crime?

tenantriskverification April 12, 2012 0

There is a new trend emerging in some US municipalities regarding the degree to which a landlord can be held accountable for crimes committed by his or her tenants.  If you own rental properties, this is an important trend that you must keep tabs on as it evolves over time.

One example of this seemingly extreme policy is in Sunbury, PA.  The municipality recently launched regulations giving the city the right to force landlords to evict crime-minded tenants.  The town also has the right to take control of rental properties that inadvertently house criminals.  Additionally, any landlord that lives 15 or more miles away from the rental unit must now hire a property manager.  Failure to comply with any of these rules could result in fines or even a revocation of the landlord’s rental registration or license.

Sunbury decided to take these measures after a huge drug bust revealed that the drug pushers, who were renting a house, were actually arrested previously during a bust that occurred at another rental property in town.  The goal of forcing the town’s landlords to be held accountable is to reduce this recidivism.

Unfortunately, I expect this trend to grow over time because municipalities all over the US are facing severe budget crunches.  These budgetary issues often lead to layoffs, which force law enforcement officials to do more with less.  And the concept of leveraging landlords to help control crime is a way for municipalities to do more with less.

Therefore, it is important to be very careful when evaluating prospective new tenants.  By following proper tenant screening practices, you can minimize the odds of getting stuck with a ‘bad apple’ in the first place.  This obviously involves a criminal background check, credit check, and reference check at a minimum.  Being thorough with your screening tactics will also help you defend yourself if the municipality attempts to hold you accountable for bad tenant behavior.

The bottom line is that you are responsible for your tenants, whether your local municipality forces the issue or not.  Simply put, you do not want criminals living in your rental units.  So always exercise caution and never cut corners on your screening processes.  Once again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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