LANDLORDS LIABILITY OR NEGLIGENT BUILDING SECURITY

Under New York Law, landlords have a common-law duty to take minimal security precautions against reasonably foreseeable criminal acts by third-parties (James v. Jaime Towers Housing Co., Inc., 99 NY 2d 639, 641 {2003}; Burgos v. Aqueduct Realty Corp. v. New York City Housing Authority, 92 NY 2d 544, 548 {1992}; Raghu v. 24 Realty Co., 7 AD 3d 455, 456 {1st Dept. 2004}).

Moreover, when a public entity (such as a housing authority) acts in a proprietary capacity as a landlord, it is held to the same duty as private landlords in providing security devices in a building (Price v. New York City Housing Authority, 92 NY 2d 533, 557 {1998}; Miller v. State of New York, 62 NY 2d 506, 508 {1984}).

The issue of what constitutes “minimal security precautions”, particularly with respect to apartment buildings, has been passed upon by the Court of Appeals which has stated: “Locks for the entrances” is considered “the most rudimentary security” (Jacqueline S. v. City of New York, 81 NY 2d 288, 295 {1993}; See also, Miller v. State of New York, 62 NY 2d 506, 514 {1984} – “Rather minimal security measure of keeping the… doors locked”).

It is the obligation of the injured party to prove that the owner/landlord has breached his duty by producing evidence that “renders it more likely or reasonable than not the assailant was an intruder who gained access to the premises through a negligently maintained entrance” (See, Burgos v. Aqueduct Realty Corp v. New York City Housing Authority, 92 NY 2d 55). In other words, even if the landlord has failed to properly secure the building, this would failure would not be a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, unless the assailant was an intruder; i.e., a person who is not a tenant nor an invited guest of a tenant, but rather an “intruder”.

In a recent decision handed down by the Appellate Division, First Department, (Terrero v New York City Housing Authority, 116 AD 3d 570 {1st Dept. 2014}), the court dealt with a situation where the former boyfriend of a 16 year old resident of the Housing Authority’s building gained entrance through the front door because of a non-functioning lock.  He subsequently sexually assaulted the infant-plaintiff.  The Housing Authority argued that the landlord not be held liable, since the victim knew her assailant and; and, thus, could not be considered an “intruder”.  The victim, being represented by Donald D. Brown, Jr., Esq., a partner in the firm of Spiegel Brown & Fichera, LLP,1 successfully argued that the term “intruder” clearly encompasses persons who have not authority, permission or invitation to enter the premises.  The fact that the “intruder” in this case, had previously had been an invitee of the tenant was of no moment, in that he was not an invitee on the day of the assault.

The other factor that is critical in establishing a landlord’s liability is that it must be foreseeable to the landlord if there is a need for security, perhaps enhanced security, because of the history of assaults or other similar crimes in the premises.  In this connection, evidence of a history of assaults in the building, criminal activity in the area of the building where the crime took place is, at least, factual issues for a jury as to the questions of whether the landlord was negligent in failing to provide adequate security under the circumstances (Terrero v. New York City Housing Authority, 116 AD 3d, 570,571 {1st Dept. 2014}) it is also important to note that the courts have consistently held:

“There is no requirement…”

Moreover,

“That the past experience relied on to establish foreseeability be of criminal activity at the exact location where the plaintiff was harmed or that it be of the same type of criminal conduct which the plaintiff was subjected (Jacqueline S. v. New York City Housing Authority, 81 NY 2d 288, 294 {1993}.  To the same effect, Ungruhe v. Blake Riv Realty, LLC, 90 AD 3d 497 {1st Dept. 2011}; Romero v. Twin Parks Southeast Houses Inc., 70 AD 3d 484, 485 {1st Dept. 2010}).”

In conclusion, a survey of New York Law in the area of a landlord’s legal liability for harm caused to tenants (or their guests) by an intruder/assailant establishes the following controlling legal principles:

1.    A landlord is under a duty to take, at least, minimum security precautions; at the least, functioning and adequate door locks.

2.    The landlord’s duty to provide building security beyond a minimum basis will be determined by the foreseeabilty of harm of the general nature to the victim.  That is, a history of incidents or complaints potentially harmful activity in the building will place the landlord under a legal duty to take all reasonable steps to protect the tenant from harm.

3.    The harm for which the landlord will be responsible extends only to harm injuries inflicted by an “intruder”; i.e.  Someone who does not have a right nor permission to be on the premises at the time.

The firm of Spiegel Brown & Fichera, LLP has handled negligent security cases on behalf of injured persons throughout New York State over the past 40 years and have been instrumental in litigating cases which have created these principals of New York Law.

A consultation as soon as possible with the firm of Spiegel, Brown & Fichera is always without charge of any kind.

We will never charge you a fee for anything on a case, except as may be clearly disclosed to you; in advance and in writing.  You will never have to pay a fee in advance.  All fees will only be payable, if you agree, in writing, that you wish us to represent you; and, then, the fee will simply be collected once you have recovered.  There is no fee, unless we make a financial recovery for you.


1 Mr. Brown was arguing the appeal on behalf of the victim’s trial counsel, Zaremba Brownell & Brown, PLLC. Mr. Brown of Spiegel Brown & Fichera, firm regularly handles appeals on behalf of other law firms, as he has 40 years of experience handling appeals in both the Federal and State courts, including having appeared before the United States Supreme Court, the United States District Court for the Second Circuit and the Court of Appeals of the State of New York.