Most major U.S. cities have experienced an alarming increase in homicides and other violent crime over the past two years. Combatting soaring crime rates is always challenging for communities racked by violence. It requires everyone to remain extra vigilant and cautious. Commercial property owners and managers are no exception. In fact, they are a key part of the equation in that they have a special duty to ensure residents and guests lawfully occupying or visiting their property are reasonably protected.
Our firm has handled many premises liability lawsuits involving negligent security issues over the years. While these cases all have their differences and unique circumstances, a common denominator in all of them is property management negligence. The sad fact is that lives could have been spared had property owners and managers taken adequate precautions to deter foreseeable criminal activity on their property.
We often see this sad reality play out in apartment complexes and other residential developments. While some problems can always be anticipated due to a complex’s higher population density, rampant crime and violence are never acceptable.
Lease Agreements as Crime-Fighting Tools
Leases, for instance, give owners of residential properties substantial leverage to handle problem tenants and guests. However, as we often see in premises liability cases, poor lease management opens the door to crime and puts lawful residents and guests at risk.
Many people generally view an apartment lease agreement as simply a document that confirms a tenant’s right to occupy an apartment. While the lease agreement serves that purpose, it is also a very effective tool for managing the complex and maintaining security and safety, ultimately avoiding property management negligence issues.
Buried in the legalese and boilerplate language of lease agreements are specific terms by which tenants agree to abide. These requirements specify how to handle the trash, rules for pets and parking, use of common areas, and the like. They also spell out the rules for occupancy (who can stay on and occupy the property) and specify prohibited conduct, such as drugs, loud music and excessive noise, loud profanity, and other disruptive or illegal behavior, all of which provide grounds for which the property manager can terminate the agreement. In short, lease agreements are an essential part of apartment complex management. They arm the landlord with the legal basis for ending the agreement and ejecting problematic residents and guests.
A top priority for property managers should be to make sure residents and guests comply with their lease agreement terms. Managers must respond promptly and consistently to violators in a meaningful way. Effective and consequential response to problems sends the message to bad actors that the property is not a good place to carry out their bad deeds.
Relatively small problems turn into bigger, widespread ones when management turns a blind eye to disruptive, illegal, and dangerous conduct. The more wrongdoing is tolerated, the worse the problem becomes as word gets out that the complex is a sanctuary for crime and misconduct.
“Outside observers may be led to believe that a troubled community is full of bad actors, but many times, that is not the case at all. A community full of decent people can live a life of torment when a complex lets a few bad eggs terrorize it with impunity,” says Parker Miller, Beasley Allen’s lead negligent security and premises liability lawyer, who works from our Atlanta office.
Mr. Miller recently settled a difficult $2 million negligent security case against a Georgia apartment complex case in which poor management encouraged criminal activity.
His client list includes numerous people in Atlanta and across the state of Georgia whose lives have been shattered by violence plaguing poorly managed residential complexes and businesses.
Mother Shot and Killed in Front of Her Son
Negligent security is also the central issue in another Georgia premises liability case Mr. Miller is handling. In that case, 24-year-old Auriel Callaway was gunned down in front of her three-year-old son as they were walking through the common area of an Athens, Georgia, apartment complex. Ms. Callaway and her unborn child died at the scene.
Described by a family member as a hardworking young woman who worked full-time while attending Athens Technical College, Ms. Callaway was the victim of a senseless, violent argument that broke out in July 2019 among a group of people outside one of the units. The fight ultimately erupted in a volley of gunfire. Ms. Callaway, an innocent bystander, was shot in the heart and lungs with a 9 mm bullet. Investigators traced the bullet to the gun of a 29-year-old woman who lived at the apartment complex. Later, authorities recovered more than 80 bullet casings from the scene.
In the premises liability lawsuit, Ms. Callaway’s family alleges that the owner and managers of the Clarke Garden Apartment Complex had no meaningful security measures in place and allowed the buildings to become a haven for gun violence and other violent crime.
The premises liability negligent security lawsuit alleges that the defendants failed to conduct reasonable inspections, which could have revealed the dangerous conditions and inadequate security. Due to the negligent security issues, criminals and other dangerous individuals thrived at the complex while the lives of innocent, law-abiding individuals like Ms. Callaway and her children continued to deteriorate.
Foreseeability is a key issue in premises liability cases involving negligent security. In Ms. Callaway’s case, the apartment complex management knew or should have known of the criminal conduct that infested the residences, yet it did nothing to effectively address the problem.
When property owners and managers fail in their duty to reasonably deter criminal conduct, it’s often innocent people who pay the ultimate price.
Our Premises Liability Lawyers
Beasley Allen has earned the reputation of being one of the most successful personal injury and premises liability law firms in the United States. Our lawyers have built a national reputation for handling cases involving serious injuries with exceptional skill, diligence, and success.
Our firm has the resources to represent clients throughout the country while never losing sight of the individual. Every person who has been criminally victimized and suffered serious injury or death as a result of negligent security and other premises liability matters deserves justice.
If you have any questions for our premises liability lawyers or need more information about this case or relating to premises liability and negligent security cases, contact Parker Miller or Rob Register.