Online activity, tenant-on-tenant crime may make landlords liable

We have discussed the role on the internet when it comes to landlord-tenant disputes before. The last time it came up, we were talking about a landlord suing a tenant for a negative Yelp review.

However, this most recent story flips the script, and the circumstances of the lawsuit are tragic and truly sad.

A woman renting an apartment had some noisy neighbors directly beneath her. One of the people in that apartment was on the lease, while the other, a man, was occupying the apartment but not on the lease. When the woman complained about the noise, she says the two people in the apartment below her banged on her door and screamed at her. They harassed her, and even tracked down her Facebook profile, to which they supposedly sent a disturbing message that contained a sexually-violent video.

The woman told her landlord about all of this. The landlord moved her to a new apartment in the same complex and told her to call the police about the incidents. The landlord also warned the people in the offending apartment to leave the woman alone. Unfortunately, the man not on the lease did not listen. He attacked the woman in her new apartment and raped her. He was found guilty and will spend nine years in jail.

The woman is now suing the landlord for his handling of the situation.

It's just a horrible story that exemplifies how delicate disputes that involve landlords and tenants can be. You can ask plenty of questions about the landlord: why didn't he kick the man out (the landlord did reject his plea to let him on the lease due to credit problems, but did not remove him from the premises)? Why didn't he allow the woman to move to a new apartment? Why didn't he remove the two people in the offending apartment?

Hindsight is 20/20, and in the moment the landlord probably did what he thought was right. But this is a serious crime and a terrible result to the story. Part of the woman's lawsuit rests on the Facebook interactions she had with the two people (and it must be proven it was them, as the message came from an unknown source). If that holds up, landlords could be exposed to increased liability in tenant disputes.

Source: Forbes, "Landlord May Be Liable When A Tenant's Facebook Harassment Leads To A Rape," Eric Goldman, Oct. 15, 2013