In the wake of the Treyvon Martin shooting earlier this year, rental property owners and managers are rightly concerned about possible liability for actions taken by tenant watch or apartment watch groups on their properties.
In a case that made headlines everywhere, 17-year-old Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch leader while visiting his father, who lives in the community. Evidence keeps coming out, but it is unknown what exactly happened that day. The shooter, George Zimmerman, has been charged with second-degree murder.
The circumstances around the shooting have many wondering who is liable for Zimmerman’s actions? Was he sanctioned by the homeowners association in the community? Will the individual homeowners be subjected to a lawsuit and paying damages? And if something like this happened on a rental property, would the owner be liable for a tenant watch group’s actions?
It’s a tough call. In many communities, the police have encouraged citizens to form crime watch, neighborhood watch and tenant watch associations to discourage and report crime in their communities. Many of these groups were formed with the help of the local police.
The inherent risks in sponsoring or advocating for a tenant watch group can be mitigated by including the local police department for guidance and training, as well as by consulting with an attorney who specializes in homeowners and community associations. It’s also important to create a process of recruiting only responsible volunteers who will follow procedures, and screening each potential volunteer.
Establishing procedures for reporting suspicious activity and keeping safe are vital for success and safety, and “do not engage” and “no guns allowed” rules are the most important. In the Martin case, Zimmerman was told to remain in his car, but ignored that directive from the police dispatcher.
Still, a landlord or property manager cannot prevent accidents or lapses in judgment. And in the Martin case, if Zimmerman is found guilty, it’s likely a lawsuit against the community’s homeowner association and property management company will follow.
Could the same thing occur in your duplex, rental home or apartment complex? If you want to avoid liability, then perhaps hiring a private security firm is the better way to go.
The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for obtaining legal advice applicable to your situation.