As a landlord, it’s crucial to protect your tenants from possible criminal activities (including actions taken by your other tenants) and protect the community from criminal actions committed by your tenants. If your tenants run a drug lab, grow marijuana or even have a pack of poorly trained, dangerous dogs, you could be held liable for those issues — even if you never enter the residence or take part in the activities. From expensive fines to personal injury lawsuits, criminal charges and even seizure of your property, tenant behavior has a direct impact on your well-being and livelihood. State and local laws vary, but in many places you risk being held responsible for the following issues:
Drugs and Other Criminal Acts
While you are not expected to police your tenants or spy on them, if you become aware of criminal activity and allow it to continue on your property, you could be held accountable for tenants’ actions. By knowingly allowing a tenant to create or sell drugs, you risk either criminal or civil charges; penalties vary depending on where you live but in most states you will be held at least somewhat responsible for tenant actions. Good screening and background checks can help cut the risk of getting a criminal tenant; knowing what is going on at each of your properties can also help you be aware of any potential issues and provides the opportunity to act as needed to protect yourself.
Failing to Protect Tenants
Your tenants may not engage in criminal activity, but if you fail to properly provide a secure home for your residents, you could be held responsible for their injuries and damages. Make sure any home you provide is up to date on all codes, fully equipped with fire safety items, and has the appropriate level of security — including exterior lighting and good-quality deadbolt locks. Changing the locks after each tenant no longer lives in your property is a must as well, since you could be exposing current tenants to added risk by allowing previous tenants a way to access the home.
If your tenant owns a dog that is dangerous and it harms someone else, you could be held liable for damages. Depending on where you live, your tenant could be in violation of breed legislation — allowing a banned breed to live on your property could expose you to litigation and other penalties.
Even dogs that are not outright banned can cause significant harm if they are not well trained or if they continue to live on your property after they have been identified as a dangerous animal. If the dog has already injured or bitten someone and it stays on your property, many states will hold you responsible for the damages caused by this pet. If the dog bites a visitor, passer-by or escapes the yard and attacks someone (or his or her pet) you, as the property owner, may be considered responsible for that dog’s actions, even if you have never met or seen the pet in person.
While dogs cause most animal injuries, other, more exotic animals can also cause injury possibly resulting in a costly lawsuit. Having a clear pet policy, actually seeing the resident pets for yourself, and confirming that they do not appear to pose a risk to others will help you mitigate risk. Good tenant screening can help as well; if you find that potential tenants have moved a lot or that they had issues in the past because of their pets, you will be better able to anticipate a problem.
Putting the right tenants in place at the start can help reduce or eliminate your risk, and taking prompt action when you discover a problem is essential, as well. By being proactive about crime and tenant safety, you protect the community from harm and reduce the chances that you’ll be charged for your tenant’s poor choices.
Christian Moore is the COO at Global Verification Network. He brings more then 20 years of experience to the organization. GVN specializes in helping a wide range of industries with screenings, background checks, records and verifications services.