by Phoenix attorney Christopher A. Combs, partner with Combs Law Group, P.C.
Question: We are the property management company for a large apartment complex in Phoenix. Many of our residents are concerned about security in the apartment complex because of the publicity about the ” Baseline Killer” and the ” Serial Shooter.” We have now installed security cameras, and we have posted signs that trespassers will be prosecuted, including trespassers photographed by the security cameras. Unless we hire security guards, however, we cannot determine if an individual walking through the apartment complex is a trespasser, or a guest of a tenant. Even if we are able to determine that an individual could be a trespasser, the time and cost of prosecution is prohibitive. In other words, the signs and the security cameras are primarily for a deterrent effect. If one of our tenants is a victim of the ” Baseline Killer” or the ” Serial Shooter,” or the victim of some other serious crime, do we have liability for relying on the signs and the security cameras, and not hiring security guards?
Answer: In general, the owner of rental property, and the property manager hired by the owner, have liability to tenants for failure to take reasonable actions to protect the safety of the tenants. For example, if defective lighting in a parking lot is not repaired for a long period of time, and a tenant is assaulted in the parking lot, the owner and the property manager could be liable to the tenant. In your situation, the posting of signs and the installation of security cameras is a good thing, similar to the installation of lighting in the parking lot. If there is no action taken against trespassers despite the signs and the security cameras, however, you could be liable for lack of enforcement, just like an owner/property manager is liable for lack of repairs to the lighting in a parking lot. I would consider hiring a security guard and otherwise enforcing the prohibition against trespassers, at least until the community knows that the prohibition against trespassers in your apartment complex is strictly enforced.