As a general rule, a private person does not have a duty to protect another from a criminal attack by a third person. The rule has sometimes been applied in landlord-tenant law. However, the rationale of this very broad general rule falters when it is applied to the conditions of modern day urban apartment living, The rationale of the general rule exonerating a third party from any duty to protect another from a criminal attack has no applicability to the landlord-tenant relationship in multiple dwelling houses. A landlord is no insurer of his tenants' safety, but he certainly is no bystander.
The appellant tenant sustained serious injuries when she was criminally assaulted and robbed at approximately 10:15 in the evening by an intruder in the common hallway of an apartment house at. The landlord had notice of these crimes and had in fact been urged by appellant herself prior to the events leading to the instant appeal to take steps to secure the building. Appellant brought suit to recover for her injuries.
Should a landlord have a duty to take steps to protect tenants from foreseeable criminal acts committed by third parties?
In the instant case, the landlord had notice, both actual and constructive, that the tenants were being subjected to crimes against their persons and their property in and from the common hallways. For the period just prior to the time of the assault upon appellant Kline the record contains unrefuted evidence that the apartment building was undergoing a rising wave of crime. Under these conditions, the court can only conclude that the landlord "was aware of conditions which created a likelihood" (actually, almost a certainty) that further criminal attacks upon tenants would occur.
As between the tenant and landlord, the landlord is the only one in the position to take the necessary acts of protection required. He is not an insurer, but he is obligated to minimize the risk to his tenants. Not only as between landlord and tenant is the landlord best equipped to guard against the predictable risk of intruders, but even as between landlord and the police power of government, the landlord is in the best position to take the necessary protective measures. Municipal police cannot patrol the entryways and the hallways, the garages and the basements of private multiple unit apartment dwellings. They are neither equipped, manned, nor empowered to do so. In the area of the predictable risk which materialized in this case, only the landlord could have taken measures which might have prevented the injuries suffered by appellant.