Are Apartment Video Surveillance Security Solutions Actually a Liability?

Posted by Pearson Brock on March 15, 2019

Many apartment property managers and owners fear installing video surveillance increases liability. The opposite is actually true. Video surveillance decreases apartment liability and there are court cases that reinforce this.

Generally, a landowner has no duty to protect people on his/her property from a criminal attack unless the criminal attack is reasonably foreseeable. E.g., Relyea v. State, 385 So. 2d 1378 (Fla. 4th DCA 1980); Admiral's Port Condominium Assn., Inc. v. Feldman, 426 So. 2d 1054 (Fla. 3d DCA 1983).

If criminal attacks are reasonably foreseeable, then a court can find a landlord negligent for failing to provide reasonable security. Holley v. Mt. Zion Terrace Apartments, 382 So. 2d 98 (Fla. App. 1980).

Case: Holley V. Mt. Zion Terrace Apartments

Here's the story from the Holley v. Mt. Zion Terrace Apartments case. Someone raped and murdered a tenant in her apartment. In the year before this happened, her apartment complex had 20 reported violent crimes. Moreover, the landlord previously used uniformed armed guards to protect the complex and stopped using the service.

Based on these facts, the court found that a jury could reasonably hold the landlord liable for not providing security. In other words, if there is a crime on a property, and the landlord knows it, then the landlord has a legal duty to provide reasonable security measures.

Case: O'Hara v. Western Seven Trees

Landlords in California have a duty to take reasonable steps to secure their property against foreseeable criminal acts of third parties. See, e.g. Kwaitkowski v. Superior Trading Co. (1981) 123 Cal. App. 3d 324, 328. (Tenant raped in dimly lit, unsecured lobby of apartment building.)

In O'Hara v. Western Seven Trees, a court held that a tenant raped inside her apartment stated a cause of action for negligence against her landlord. This was based on the landlord's failure to provide adequate security in common areas.

The court rejected the landlord's argument of not having control over what took place inside the tenant's apartment and pointed out "[f]ailure to take reasonable precautions to safeguard the common areas under [the landlord's] control could have contributed substantially, as alleged, to [the tenant's] injuries."

In Frances T. v. Village Green Owners Assn., the California Supreme Court applied the O'Hara reasoning to a case in which a condominium owner sued the owner's association for negligence after someone raped her in her dwelling. The plaintiff contended the owner's association was negligent in failing to install enough exterior lighting and requiring her to remove additional lighting she had installed herself.

The court allowed the case to proceed and reasoned: "The facts alleged here, if proven, demonstrate defendant's awareness of the need for additional lighting and of the fact that lighting could aid in deterring criminal conduct, especially break-ins." Thus, the association owed a duty to the plaintiff on the theory that an exterior condition over which it had control contributed to the rape.

The Verdict on Apartment Video Surveillance

The bottom line is that if criminal attacks are reasonably foreseeable, then a court can find a landlord negligent for failing to provide reasonable security. In short, if there is a crime on a property and the landlord knows it, then s/he has a legal duty to provide reasonable security measures.

Just installing the security cameras alone won't deter crime, so it doesn't really matter if it's broken and doesn't record. Therefore, it's more likely a landlord will get sued for not having cameras at all than for not having a non-functioning camera.

The question multi-family residential and apartment property owners and managers need to ask themselves is this: "If you have crime on your property and know that monitoring could help prevent it, why wouldn't you use it?" Are you worried about a lawsuit? If there is a crime on your property, you'll be sued regardless. When it comes out in court that you knew you could have helped deter the crime with monitoring, then you're at greater risk of a hefty judgment because you knew and did not implement a reasonable security measure.

At Stealth we go one step further by asking, “Why have cameras if no one is watching?” Our proactive security solution combines video analytics with human intelligence to help prevent crimes before they happen. We watch for and evaluate suspicious activity in real time and can call police with live reports on criminals.

If you would like more information about live video monitoring and other apartment residential security solutions that reduce your liability, please contact us.

Posted in: Video Security Systems, Video Monitoring