Landlords and liability

Landlords and Liability

What responsibilities do landlords have related to criminal activity on their property? 

As a Wisconsin landlord, you likely spend a lot of time securing tenants, maintaining your property and ensuring renters fulfill their responsibilities. But what happens when it appears tenants are engaging in illegal activities or when a crime is committed on a rental property? Are landlords liable for criminal activity that happens on their property? 

Landlords and criminal activity on a rental property

Under the law, landlords may, in fact, be held civilly liable for injuries or other harm from criminal behavior that happens on a rental property, such as an apartment building or a rented home. Even if and when the landlord does not live on the property and isn't involved in the crime committed, they still have legal responsibility for providing a safe and habitable living environment for tenants. 

Typically, this includes a responsibility to protect their tenants from assault, robbery and crimes committed by other tenants. More, landlords may also be held responsible for the criminal activities of their tenants who endanger the surrounding community. While this may seem complex for landlords and property managers, there are ways to minimize liability by taking steps to ensure tenant safety and prevent crime on your property. 

Steps landlords can take to minimize their liability

There are many steps landlords can take to minimize their liability for criminal activity on their property. 

1. Have a security system to protect the property from crimes commonly committed in the area. More, landlords can educate tenants about crime in the area and the security measures in place. 

2. Encourage tenants to report safety and security concerns, and address them immediately. Reported concerns that aren't addressed in a timely fashion can pose additional liability risks to the landlord. 

3. Ensure all locks, deadbolts and doors are in working order; maintain and fix them when necessary. If doors don't already have them, consider installing sliding chain locks for tenant safety. Also, install sufficient lighting and window locks. 

4. Carefully select a property manager if one is needed. Property managers generally have a wide breadth of access to tenant spaces and the property overall. And a property manager who commits a crime against tenants or on the property may pose a liability for the landlord. 

5. Know your rights under Wisconsin law regarding criminal activity conducted by tenants, a member of the tenant household or their guests. Under Wisconsin landlord-tenant law ACT 176, a landlord can end a tenancy for criminal activity or drug-related crimes (such as manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance) with a non-curable five-day notice, even if the tenant has signed a lease. These activities include anything that threatens the health and safety of employees, the landlord or other tenants or their right to peaceful enjoyment of the property. This Wisconsin law does not cover possession or use of a controlled substance. It's also noteworthy that the individual(s) doesn't need to be arrested or convicted of the crime to be served the five-day notice. 

Legal advice can be helpful for landlord-tenant disputes

Landlords or tenants who encounter challenging situations related to their agreements may wish to pursue legal action to protect their rights. Having a trusted attorney on your side can give you the knowledge you need when it's time to take the next step. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you understand your rights and responsibilities as a landlord or tenant when disputes arise


For help with landlord-tenant issues, call Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC, at 608-784-5678.


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