What Are You Liable For As Landlord?

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Transitioning from homeowner to landlord is no small feat, particularly for landlords who own apartment buildings and must accommodate a large number of tenants. There are certainly a number of benefits to becoming a landlord. For one thing, a landlord collects income from tenants, and it can not only be a secondary source of income but gradually become a main source for some. Landlords also don’t have to necessarily put the hours into maintaining their properties that they would put into a typical full-time job, though of course, this would depend in part on the number of properties they’re maintaining and how many tenants they have on board at one time. However, being a landlord still requires a lot of responsibility. Landlords are not only responsible for the regular maintenance of their properties, but also, to a certain extent, the safety of their properties as well. Of course, we all have to maintain a certain level of personal responsibility for our own safety. If you’re driving drunk and end up running off the road, that would be your fault. But if you move into a rental apartment and then have your home broken into by a tenant in the same building, are you completely liable? With an estimated 2.5 million burglaries occurring each year, these kinds of questions must be asked not only by potential tenants but landlords.

It’s incredibly important for landlords to keep in mind what they’re liable for. The last thing you would want is to open up an apartment building as an investment property but end up losing money due to a tenant’s lawsuit. Furthermore, while some landlords can be more hands-off than others, you can’t be completely devoid of responsibility even if you use a property management company. Landlords are protected by law when it comes to some circumstances, but not all. It’s also important to remember that some legalities are dependent in part on where you live. With that being said, let’s look into what landlords should consider when it comes to liabilities and responsibilities regarding the protection of tenants from criminals and other tenants.

Am I Responsible For Protecting My Tenants From Criminals?

Particularly when tenants reside within an apartment building, making them vulnerable to other tenants, landlords may question the extent to which they’re responsible for their tenants’ personal safety. Is this something that tenants essentially pay for? Most states and jurisdictions indicate that landlords are in fact partially responsible for the safety of their tenants. This doesn’t mean that your tenant could slip and fall on a floor that they mopped and then hold you responsible for their broken ankle. Typically, this would indicate that landlords are responsible for protecting their tenants from assailants, thieves, and most importantly, other tenants.

Of course, this also means that in certain cases landlords may also need to protect the community at large from any criminal acts committed by their tenants. Essentially, the landlord should know whether or not their tenants have criminal histories. If you’re renting your property out to someone with a criminal history, you’re then responsible to be proactive regarding protecting your tenants or the nearby area. How does this protection work? It depends on where your property is located. For example, you may be legally required to report your tenants if you know that they’re engaging in illegal activities. You may also be liable if you rent your property out to tenants known to deal drugs. Keep in mind that if you rent out any property to someone who has been convicted of a felony crime, which would involve drugs and narcotic charges, burglary, arson, armed robbery, murder and/or attempted murder, rape and/or sexual assault, kidnapping, and aggravated assault and battery, you would potentially be liable if they commit illegal activities on your property.

How Would I Be Held Liable For My Tenants?

There are a number of ways in which you could be held liable should your tenants commit certain illegal activities on your property. These include fines, which would be dependent on federal, state, or local laws. If you allowed drug dealing on your property knowingly, you could also be given criminal charges. This is more common an issue than you might think with 1.6 million Americans reporting using methamphetamines in 2017. Furthermore, if other tenants were harmed as a result of these criminal activities, they could very well sue you.

In the long term, it’s also important to remember that, should you rent out your property to known criminals, this could potentially decrease the value of the property. All landlords should keep this consideration in mind when selecting their tenants.

How Can I Protect Myself From Liabilities?

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to protect yourself from certain liabilities, though it’s impossible for tenants to keep themselves from being held liable completely. Firstly, you should try to limit your responsibility for your tenants’ criminal conduct in every way possible. This would begin with careful screenings, screening out tenants with serious criminal backgrounds. You should also include a clause in all rental agreements that would allow you to evict tenants who are dealing drugs on the property and immediately evict any tenants who do so. You should listen to other tenants who attempt to tip you off about strange smells or other issues that could indicate drug activities. Of course, you should also take into mind clues on your own; for example, you shouldn’t accept rent in cash.

Of course, there are ways in which you can protect yourself on a more general level. Make sure that your properties all follow every possible safety guideline and requirement. Install security systems that are designed to keep your tenants as safe as possible, and stay abreast of any criminal activity that is happening in your local area. Ask your tenants questions about any safety issues that may occur, rather than waiting for them to report problems as they arise. Have your properties inspected on a regular basis.

But remember too that much of this will probably be out of your hands if you hire a property manager; and that is absolutely fine. However, you must, therefore, be careful when choosing a property manager. You’re giving your property manager a lot of trust, and you should not only read reviews but ask for references. Furthermore, keep in regular touch with them. Ultimately, you want tenants who are happy and healthy; essentially, you’re starting a long-term professional relationship with them. If they’re happy, you’ll be happy too!

This article contains general information and does not contain legal advice. Buy It, Rent It, Profit is not a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.