People in Texas have a right to expect they will be reasonably safe when they visit the property of another, whether for business or personal reasons. Landowners must take reasonable measures to make sure the condition of their property is safe for those who are authorized to come upon it.
A landowner’s responsibility generally does not extend to the criminal actions of third parties on their property unless they have some prior indication that a danger exists. When someone is hurt at an apartment complex by a third party, the apartment complex owner’s liability will depend on what is known about the risk and how difficult it would be to prevent it.
The Duty of Property Owners to Others on Their Property
Premises liability laws require landowners who invite or allow others to come onto their property to keep the property safe or warn visitors of any hidden dangers that the owner is aware of or could discover after reasonable inspection.
A warning about a hidden danger is probably sufficient if the warning is likely to be seen by visitors before encountering the dangerous condition, and by heeding the warning, visitors can avoid any harm. In most cases, property owners need only warn of dangers that are not easily discovered. The law places some responsibility on visitors to avoid obvious danger.
However, when the danger involves criminal activity, a warning is not considered sufficient to relieve a property owner’s liability for the dangerous condition.
Does an Owner Have a Duty to Protect Persons at an Apartment Complex from Criminal Activity?
An exception to the general rule that property owners are not liable for the criminal conduct of third parties exists when a property owner knows or has reason to know of an unreasonable and foreseeable risk of harm from criminal activity.
The Texas Supreme Court has established the criteria for determining whether the risk of criminal activity was foreseeable and how to evaluate whether not taking security measures was unreasonable.
In determining what a property owner knew or should have known about whether criminal activity was foreseeable, there are five factors to be considered:
- Has criminal activity occurred at or near the property before?
- How recently has criminal activity occurred?
- How many times has criminal activity occurred?
- Was the criminal activity of a similar type?
- How much publicity did the criminal activity get?
The high court has also said the foreseeability of criminal activity and, thus, a duty to provide security can arise from circumstances that immediately precede the criminal activity. In Del Lago Partners, Inc. vs. Smith, the property’s management had been aware of an escalating situation between patrons in its bar for 90 minutes and failed to intervene before a fight broke out where one patron seriously injured another.
Whether security is or is not reasonable is more of a policy consideration weighing the cost of requiring property owners to eliminate foreseeable criminal activity against the risk of harm to persons on the property.
If the risk of harm could be easily prevented, it would be unreasonable for a property owner not to implement the necessary security. But if the burden to implement the necessary security is unacceptably high, then the risk of harm to visitors might not be unreasonable. The greater the risk of harm, the less likely a property owner’s hardship will be convincing.
Examples of Negligent Security Issues at Apartment Complexes
A lawsuit for negligent security against an apartment complex alleges that the apartment management or owner knew of the risk of criminal activity, and implementing security measures was not unduly burdensome.
The following security issues in and around an apartment complex can be evidence of negligent security:
- Poor lighting – Adequate lighting in parking lots and garages, walkways, stairwells, entries, and exits reduces opportunities for criminal activity.
- Lack of security cameras – Security cameras can be a strong deterrent to criminals at a reasonable cost to property owners.
- Failure to hire a security guard – When an apartment complex is located in an area known for violent crime or violent crime has occurred on the property, it may be negligent not to hire security guards.
- Weak or broken locks – Texas law requires landlords to provide and maintain interior locking devices for the windows and doors of tenant apartments. Failure to comply is negligent as a matter of law.
- Unsecure common entrances – Large apartment complexes can have common entrances that need to be secure enough so persons other than residents and guests cannot gain unauthorized access.
- Failure to maintain security systems – An apartment complex may implement security devices, but if they are not adequately monitored or maintained, they won’t prevent the risk of criminal activity.
When You Can Sue an Apartment Complex for Negligent Security
When someone is injured by a third party at an apartment complex, they do not automatically have the right to sue the property owner. The owner or manager must have known or had reason to know that criminal activity was foreseeable.
If an owner denies knowing of any previous criminal activity, it will have to be shown that the owner should have known, which will require collecting evidence of other criminal activity within the complex or the nearby area.
Even if some evidence of prior criminal activity is discovered, it may not be relevant enough to prove the property owner should have provided better security. Maybe the previous crimes are too dissimilar. Or maybe they took place too long ago. The risk needs to be imminent enough that reasonable people would recognize the need to do something about it.
How to Know if You Have a Negligent Security Claim
In order to know whether you can sue an apartment complex for negligent security after being injured by a third party, you need to speak with a premises liability attorney who has experience handling negligent security cases. Our personal injury lawyers will do some preliminary investigating and advise you as to whether there is enough evidence to bring a successful lawsuit. Contact us to discuss your legal options.