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Owner vs. Landlord Responsibilities

Once a tenant has taken full possession of a property, the owner is not held liable to third parties for negligence or illegal use of the property of the tenants that cause damages. The statutory obligation to exercise reasonable care and safety is only applicable if the landlord holds control over common areas, such as in an apartment complex, to which access is allowed to the tenants and others.

If damages are caused by defective construction (built by or under the direction of the owner/landlord) or in keeping the property in repair, they are also the responsibility of the landlord. Defects in construction completed before the owner/landlord purchased the property may still be the responsibility of the new owner if the defect was known, or should have been known by reasonable diligence if it causes injury.

Often commercial tenants are held responsible for the duty to repair in their lease, releasing the owner of liability for injuries occurring on the property. Residential leases may not be assigned to the tenants. If the owner had prior knowledge of defects that may cause injury, the owner may not be able to avoid liability if the property is not repaired.

If the landlord is notified of a broken lock on a tenant's door and fails to repair it, the landlord may be held liable for an ensuing burglary. Many defenses available to owners are used by landlords, the main one being proportional negligence of the tenant. If the only safe or reasonable access for a tenant has a reported hazard in it, and both the owner and tenant know about the hazard, the landlord is not released from liability for damages.

All building codes and ordinances governing safety, such as maintaining proper lighting in common areas, are the responsibility of the owner. Many premises liability lawsuits are being pursued due by tenants of apartment and condominium complexes because of inadequate security. Defective or inadequate door locks as well as latches are the number one complaint due to their lack of preventing crimes on the premises.
Property owners need to be aware of risks associated with any type of property (rental, commercial or residential) to be able to minimize these risks. Security plans needs to be in constant use and accurate documentation needs to be kept current to assist in legally protecting the owner. General liability insurance does not cover civil action awards, and some states do not allow insurance companies to pay the punitive damages levied against an insured by the courts.

Property owners may not generally use deadly force when defending their property. Human life is highly valued by society, and physical bodies are valued much more than property. Due to this, the safety of any individual (invited or not) is of greater value than objects any individual is trying to steal. Reasonable force, preventing someone or something, used by an owner to protect the property from trespass or theft is allowable.

When reasonable use of self-help is used in defense of their property, owners may not be charged with battery, assault, or other wrongful act, whether intentional or accidental, that causes injury to another, as it will not be considered unlawful in these situations. This applies to REASONABLE force, not force calculated to severely injure, or be the cause or someone's death.

The one authorized limitation on the use of deadly force is when there is life threatening behavior. If an intruder is physically threatening life or, for example, raping a tenant or homeowner, it may be an appropriate use of deadly force. When there is no physical threat during a robbery, such as witnessing someone stealing from a backyard or garage, it is not justifiable to fire a weapon at the perpetrator, causing them physical harm.

Contact a Iowa premise liability lawyer representing clients in Eldora, Iowa today to schedule your free initial consultation.

Criminal Acts of Third Parties

Criminals are not usually employees of commercial tenants or property owners. Assaults and robberies occurring in places of business or apartment complexes are often unknown. If they are known, victims rarely are able to recover damages from them because they are not known, have escaped prosecution, or do not have the means of repayment. Victims often turn to property owners or landlords for compensation. If the owner was found to fail in providing protection, such as not replacing burned out lights or providing sufficient security, there is a possibility they are liable, even if they had no control over the assailant.

Anticipation of Criminal Acts

It is impossible to predict every criminal attack. Owners and landlords are not able to insure invitees or others from every possible criminal act, yet there are precautions that owners and landlords may us to discourage criminals. Ordinary care must be taken to provide protection from harm. Previous criminal acts on an owner or landlord's property provide insight to find ways of preventing similar crimes. The courts examine these prior criminal activities to establish the predictability of the criminal act causing the current suit they are reviewing. If this act is significantly similar to previous criminal acts on the owner or landlord's property, and a reasonable security measure could have been in force to prevent the risk of reoccurrence was not acted upon, there is a high possibility the owner or landlord may be liable for damages.

Courts review all factors of the crime in question with previous incidents. The relativity they have to each other includes the location and nature of each, as well as other factors that would indicate a possibility of prevention. Although they do not have to be identical, there needs to be sufficient evidence that shows that owner should have been alerted to the fact that precautionary measures needed to be taken. Owners are often not held liable if similar incidents have not occurred on their property. Juries are normally used to determine liability in these types of cases. Due to the various laws in each state, it is wise to seek counsel from an experienced Premises Liability attorney if you have been a victim of a crime.

Failure to Act

Knowing of the presence of possible danger and failing to remove the threat, may indicate the owner or landlord is liable. Threats of these types include intoxicated or drug influenced persons, someone causing a public disturbance by relaying threats, and allowing previous offenders to return to the property. If there is a history of tenant aggression and the tenant has not been evicted, or other action has been taken to remove the threat, an owner may be liable for that tenant's assault. Owners are not responsible for knowing that a tenant is frequently mean, verbally abusing a spouse or children, as this may not indicate a violent nature of the tenant. If the owner or landlord employs security guards, they may be liable if the security officers fail to reasonably execute their duties.

No Liability Situations

Taking personal risk by putting oneself in danger relieves owners of liability. Knowingly sitting alone outside in a known high crime area, engaging in physical altercations (such as in parks or nightclubs), or being injured by someone you know are examples of this. Employees may not seek compensation if they are the victim of an attack from someone they know, as the act was not random, nor related to employment. Other unpredictable events, such as drive-by shootings, are not cases where owners or landlords are held liable.

If you would like to schedule a free initial consultation contact an Iowa premise liability attorney, representing clients in Eldora, Iowa  at the Clark, Butler, Walsh & Hamann. Give us a call at (319) 234-5701 or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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We are located in downtown Waterloo, Iowa. Our office is directly across from the Black Hawk County Courthouse.

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Address: 315 E 5th St., Waterloo, Iowa 50703 Phone: (319) 234-5701 Fax: (319) 232-9579. Email:

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