Vanderbilt Law Review


Irma W. Merrill

First Page



The controversial subject of landlord liability for crimes committed by third parties on the apartment premises has been the subject of much debate. The discussion has produced a scattering of opinions rather than one settled rule. Not all jurisdictions agree that a landlord should be held liable to his tenants for crimes on the premises. Even jurisdictions that do hold landlords liable for such crimes disagree on the basis for liability. Some courts ground their decisions in contract. Other courts conjure landlord liability out of an implied warranty of habitability. Still other courts impose landlord liability for third party crimes on the basis of tort principles.

The dust kicked up by the debate, however, should not cloud the issues. The very nature of the disagreement has clarified the direction that the courts should take. The emergence of a new standard for judging landlord liability is a milestone in the development of American law, but must be recognized uniformly to bring stability to this area of the law. This Note advocates that courts should base their decisions concerning a landlord's liability for crimes committed by third parties on tort principles rather than on contract or implied warranty of habitability theories. Part II of this Note focuses on property and tort law principles that have shaped landlord liability in general. The Note considers only the case of the urban apartment landlord and tenant. Part III examines the tort, implied warranty of habitability, and contract theories upon which courts base landlord liability for third party crimes. Part IV analyzes these different principles and concludes that courts should rely on the tort theory as the basis for landlord liability to tenants for crimes committed by third parties on the premises. Finally, part IV concludes that, in applying tort principles, courts should use a rebuttable presumption of landlord negligence. This presumption should arise once the tenant has shown injuries from a foreseeable crime committed on the premise by a third party who gained entrance through a common area.