How to Prevent a Violent Incident at Your Community

Attorneys Robert Cox and Ed Wallis of law firm Glassman, Wyatt, Tuttle & Cox in Memphis, outline a few necessary steps to increase safety.
Robert Cox
Robert Cox

The latest FBI statistics show that property crimes dropped 1.3 percent in 2016 when compared to 2015. However, the number of violent crimes increased 4.1 percent for the second year in a row. Occasionally, such events happen near or inside residential communities, threatening the safety of those who live or work there. In such situations, the responsibility is divided between all the parties involved, including owners, property managers and renters. Attorneys Robert Cox and Ed Wallis of law firm Glassman, Wyatt, Tuttle & Cox in Memphis, Tenn., shared their view on the matter and outlined a few necessary steps to increase safety within a multifamily community.

A few months ago, the media reported on a shootout near an apartment complex in Memphis, Tenn. How can violent events impact landlords and owners of such communities?

Wallis: From our experience in defending the owners and managers of apartment communities throughout the Mid-South, landlords, of course, want their tenants to be safe from harm. As criminal activity becomes more prevalent in any region, one can expect there to be a similar uptick in crime in all forms of housing, including multi-unit. Landlords have a responsibility to monitor trends in criminal activity and attempt to provide reasonable protection to their residents. However, they cannot insure the safety of tenants, just as the police force does not guarantee safety.

In which situations could owners, landlords or managers be held accountable for the effects of such tragic incidents?

Cox: All players in multifamily housing have a responsibility when handling incidents of crime. Owners need to be responsible for their own safety, in certain regards, and landlords have a role, as well, to provide reasonable protection to keep their residents safe. Crime, however, is going to remain an unfortunate constant in society and it is impossible for landlords to be the absolute insurer of the safety of their residents.

What are the legal steps that should be covered by property managers and owners to protect themselves and their tenants before violent crimes and incidents happen?

Wallis: Landlords are required to provide reasonable assurances to their tenants that the unit and complex are safe. While not an exhaustive list, there are some basic steps that they can take to help minimize risk. Landlords and owners should promptly repair any broken windows or locks. They should replace and maintain smoke detectors, as needed. They should also regularly inspect their properties to ensure there are no safety concerns. A straightforward rule is that landlords should remedy problems that create an unsafe situation when there is a reasonable solution to do so. One option for landlords is to retain a consultant to review safety policies and protocols. An attorney that regularly handles such cases can also assist a landlord, owner or property manager with concepts to work through security related issues.

Ed Wallis
Ed Wallis

What about tenants? Is there anything they need to check before moving into a new community?

Cox: Tenants play an important role in creating a safe living environment. First, they must be honest and forthright about activities of their co-tenants and neighbors. If someone is involved in criminal misconduct, the tenant should let property management know. Similarly, if the tenant sees a problem or potential hazard, a written request for repair should be turned in to property management. Finally, tenants should be observant of their surroundings. If something does not seem right, residents should contact the police for help.

Do you have any examples, cases related to such incidents that you’ve worked on? How prevalent are these situations?

Wallis: Most examples are aligned with the specific facts, which would be too lengthy to effectively explain here. Nonetheless, there are many incidents involving criminal activity in the Memphis region and it is expected that these acts will continue to occur despite reasonable steps taken by landlords and owners.

Why is it important to take all the cautionary legal measures for such incidents?

Cox: The law requires landlords to take reasonable steps to correct unsafe conditions. More importantly, though, residents will be happier and more likely to remain a tenant when they feel like the community in which they live is safe and vibrant.

Images courtesy of Glassman, Wyatt, Tuttle & Cox