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While landlords have no general duty to protect tenants from criminal attack, such a duty may arise when a landlord has created, or is responsible for, a known defective condition on a premises that foreseeably enhanced the risk of criminal attack. Moreover, a landlord who undertakes, either gratuitously or by contract, to provide security will thereafter have a duty to act with reasonable care. Where, however, a landlord has made no affirmative attempt to provide security, and is not responsible for a physical defect that enhances the risk of crime, the court will not find such a duty. Liability based solely on the landlord-tenant relationship or on a doctrine of overriding foreseeability has been rejected.
On December 13, 1988, the plaintiff, Deanna Walls, was sexually assaulted in her vehicle, which was parked on the premises of the Bay Ridge Apartment Complex in Nashua. Walls lived with her mother, who leased an apartment at Bay Ridge. Gerard Buckley was arrested and subsequently convicted of sexually assaulting the plaintiff. Bay Ridge is owned by defendant Nashua-Oxford Bay Associates Limited Partnership (Nashua-Oxford), and managed by defendant Oxford Management Company, Inc. (Oxford). During the two years prior to the assault, the Bay Ridge complex had been the site of a number of crimes directed against property, including eleven automobile thefts, three attempted automobile thefts, and thirty-one incidents involving criminal mischief/theft. No sexual assaults or similar attacks against persons had been reported. Walls brought this action in federal court. Walls alleged that the defendants breached these duties, and that the breach was a proximate cause of the sexual assault.
Does New Hampshire law impose a duty on landlords to provide security to protect tenants from the criminal attacks of third persons?
The court held that as a general principle, landlords had no duty to protect tenants from criminal attack subject to the pleading or proof, as appropriate, of facts supporting the approved exceptions. However, such a duty may have arisen when a landlord had created, or was responsible for, a known defective condition on premises, which foreseeably enhanced the risk of criminal attack. Further, a landlord that undertook, either gratuitously or by contract, to provide security would thereafter have had a duty to act with reasonable care. Where, however, a landlord had made no affirmative attempt to provide security, and was not responsible for a physical defect that enhanced the risk of crime, no such duty was found. Liability based solely on the landlord-tenant relationship or on a doctrine of overriding foreseeability. Secondly, the court found that the warranty of habitability implied in residential lease agreements protected tenants against structural defects, but did not require landlords to take affirmative measures to provide security against criminal attack.