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Peppers v. Essex Plaza Management

A-3366-07T3 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2008) (Unpublished)

LANDLORD-TENANT; LANDLORD’S LIABILITY — A landlord only must employ reasonable measures to safeguard its tenants from foreseeable criminal acts and other acts beyond its control, but then only if it should have known of a pattern of criminal activity on the premises that poses a foreseeable risk of harm to its tenants.

A tenant was maced as she exited an elevator in her apartment complex. She sued her landlord for damages, alleging that the landlord failed to maintain adequate security at the complex. The tenant stated that she ran to the nearest security booth and reported the incident to the security guard on duty. According to the tenant, management had directed tenants to report any observed criminal activity to the complex’s security staff or to the municipal police. Several days before being maced, the tenant had reported criminal activity around her building to the police, who responded to her call and arrested a suspected drug dealer. She was later threatened by the drug dealer’s friend. She called her cousin (a municipal police officer) for help. The supervisor at the complex testified that there were three security guards on each shift, one housed at the dispatch security booth, and two others who acted as rovers for all twelve buildings. The supervisor stated that he was the designated armed security guard on the premises and, as required by municipal ordinance, was present for eight hours each day.

At the conclusion of the trial testimony, the lower court found the tenant’s statement, that only one security guard was on duty, more credible than the supervisor’s testimony that there were three security guards at the premises at all times. The lower court found that the landlord breached its duty of care owed to the tenant by failing to take reasonable measures to ensure the tenant’s safety. It awarded the tenant damages for pain and suffering. The landlord appealed, contending: (a) that it complied with the municipality’s security guard ordinance so as to preclude a finding of negligent security; and (b) that the tenant failed to present any proof of damages.

In that appeal, the Appellate Division reversed, holding that the lower court findings were not supported by substantial credible evidence. It initially noted that a landlord is not required to insure against the commission of all criminal acts on its premises. It held that a landlord only must employ reasonable measures to safeguard its tenants from foreseeable criminal acts and other acts beyond its control, but only if it should have known of a pattern of criminal activity on the premises that poses a foreseeable risk of harm to its tenants. However, in this matter, the Court found that the lower court overlooked the fact that the tenant did not testify that there were less than three security guards on duty at the time she was maced. The Court also ruled that the lower court failed to make specific factual findings as to the time of the attack. Additionally, it held the lower court failed to identify what additional measures the landlord was under a duty to perform in order to satisfactorily protect the tenant’s safety. Lastly, the Court indicated that to the extent that the tenant required continued police protection because of the earlier incident with the drug dealer, that was the sole responsibility of the municipal police.


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