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Law Update

Landlords Owe No Duty To Prevent Forseeable
Criminal Attack On Tenant In The Absence Of Either:
1) A Defective Condition On The Premises That ForeseeablyIncreased The Risk of Criminal Attack; Or 2) The Breach

Of An Express Agreement By The Landlord To Provide Security
Ward v. Inishmann Associates Ltd Partnership, et al,
No. 2006-284 (August 22, 2007)

Facts:   The plaintiff was a tenant in a mixed income housing complex owned
and managed by the defendants.  After she had complained to the defendants about several incidents of friction and confrontation between herself and another tenant (Sommers), the plaintiff was the victim of a stabbing attack by Sommers which occurred on the defendants’ property.  Sommers was charged with attempted murder as a result of the attack.

The plaintiff brought suit against the defendants seeking to hold them liable for failing to prevent the criminal assault.  During the trial, the defendants filed  motions for directed verdict arguing that the plaintiff failed to establish any of the special circumstances required in order to impose liability on a landlord for a criminal assault by a third person.  The defendants had also filed an unsuccessful motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s breach of implied warranty of habitability claims.

The trial resulted in a verdict for the plaintiff.  The defendant appealed arguing that the trial court erred: 1) in denying their motion for directed verdict based on the absence of any special circumstances which would impose a duty on the defendants to prevent a criminal attack; and 2) in denying their motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s claims for breach of implied warranty of habitability.

Held:     Reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. 

The Court’s decision was based on Walls v. Oxford Management Company, 137 N.H. 653 (1993), in which it held that there are only two exceptions to the general rule that a landlord does not have a duty to protect its tenants from criminal attack. 

These exceptions arise when:

  1. The landlord creates, or is responsible for, a known defective condition on the premises that foreseeably enhances the risk of criminal attack; or
  2. The landlord undertakes to provide security and fails to exercise reasonable care. 

The landlord’s ability to foresee such a criminal attack is not sufficient to impose a duty of care to prevent the attack.  Since neither of the exceptions applied under the circumstances of this case, the trial court erroneously denied the defendants’ motions for directed verdict.

The Court also held that the trial court erred in denying the defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiff’s claims based on breach of the implied warranty of habitability.  The warranty of habitability which is implied in residential leases applies only to structural defects, and does not require landlords to take affirmative measures to provide security against criminal attacks.  Since the landlord did not expressly agree to provide security for the benefit of its tenants, summary judgment should have been granted as to the implied warranty of habitability claims. 


Mike Wallenius




Attorneys at Law

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