California Appellate Court decision (February 28, 2017).

This case involved an action brought by a condominium complex resident (Plaintiff) against the homeowners association that owned and operated the property (Association). Factually, Plaintiff was permanently injured at the condominium complex late one night when he was standing in a common area outside of his unit smoking a cigarette when two assailants, who also lived in the same complex, attacked him from behind and shot him. As a result of the injuries, Plaintiff was rendered a quadriplegic. Plaintiff sued Association contending that it was liable for his injuries and damages because it failed to provide adequate security to prevent the attack. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Association on the basis that Association did not owe Plaintiff a duty to prevent the random and unprovoked attack upon Plaintiff. Plaintiff then appealed.

The appellate court affirmed the trial courts judgment in favor of Association after finding that Association did not breach a duty that it owed to the Plaintiff which resulted in Plaintiffs damages. Correlating Association to a landlord, the court commented that the duty of a landlord to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition requires the landlord to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable criminal acts by third parties that are likely to occur. The court further commented that to establish the duty on the landlord (or Association), it required: (i) the identification of a specific precautionary step that should have been taken that would have prevented the criminal conduct; and (ii) proof that the foreseeable criminal conduct was such that it required the imposition on the landlord (or Association) of the social and financial burdens associated with the steps that should have been taken. The appellate court further stated that when one tenant commits a third party criminal act against another tenant, as opposed to the acts of a random outsider who enters the property, foreseeability turns on whether the landlord (or Association) had notice of the tenants violent propensity.

Applying the above to the facts of the case, the appellate court ruled that, when dealing with the scope of a landlords (or associations) duty to provide protection from foreseeable third party criminal acts, the plaintiff has a burden of presenting sufficient evidence of the specific actions that the landlord or association had a duty to take that would have prevented the criminal conduct. Furthermore, a determination of the scope of the duty requires a balancing of the foreseeability of the harm against the burden of the duty to be imposed. When the criminal conduct is committed by a tenant or HOA resident rather than a random outsider, there must be a showing that the specific tenants or occupants crime was foreseeable by presenting evidence that the landlord (or HOA) had knowledge of the fact that the same person had committed prior similar acts. Because the evidence in this case showed that the HOA only had knowledge of less serious crimes such that did not involve violence or physical altercations with other occupants, the HOA was not charged with knowledge of prior similar acts and thus the criminal conduct in question was not deemed foreseeable. So to conclude the HOA is Not Liable for Injuries acused by Criminal Conduct in Common Area

See case decision: Castillo_v._Cinnamon_Tree_Homeowners_Ass’n_(Cal._App._2017)