The City of Irving has enacted a new law that goes into effect on January 1, 2010 that allows police to target crime-infested apartment complexes. The new ordinance puts pressure on landlords to clean up their properties or risk being shut down. Under this new law a threshold is established for individual apartment complexes. If the crime rates surpass it, the landlords must take part in a mandatory crime reduction program that costs $250. Police work with the landlords to improve overall security including lighting, fencing and landscaping. Tenants will also have to undergo background checks by the Department of Public Safety.
A similar law has been enacted in both Houston and in Dallas. In Houston, 30 apartment communities have been forced to implement a mandatory crime reduction program. Since that time, those apartment communities have seen a 26% decrease in crimes at those communities.
Part of the reason for this new law is that Irving Police say:
- 62% of all robberies of individuals in Irving take place in apartment complexes
- 48% of all auto thefts in the city take place in apartment parking lots and
- 41% of aggravated assaults in Irving take place in apartment complexes.
While this new law is a good step towards cleaning up our neighborhoods and hopefully reducing crime by requiring landlords to be actively involved in steps to decrease crime at the risk of having the complex shut down, the law does not specify whether an apartment complex that is required to develop a mandatory crime reduction program, but negligently fails to either implement the program or to comply with it, can be held liable for such conduct. More importantly, often the apartment complexes that are located in the highest crime zones, do not carry liability insurance. As more and more cities begin to implement these laws, it will be interesting to see how the Texas Courts handle these cases particularly since these communities are still expected to be located in areas of high concentration of violent crimes.
Currently, Texas law is very difficult to overcome the legal hurdles to hold a landlord liable for the criminal conduct of others, but in the Texas Supreme Court cases addressing the issue, none of those cases have involved an apartment complex that had a crime rate that mandated the complex enact a crime reduction program. For example, it would be interesting to see how the opinion of the Texas Supreme Court might differ in the case of Timberwalk Apartments v. Cain, 972 S.W.2d 749 (Tex. 1998) if the apartment complex at issue had been under a legal duty to implement a crime reduction program but failed to do so. In Timberwalk, the tenant sued landlord after she was raped in her apartment. The Court held that the incident was not foreseeable as a matter of law. The Court noted that “Crime may be visited upon virtually anyone at any time or place,” but criminal conduct of a specific nature at a particular location is never foreseeable merely because crime is increasingly random and violent and may possibly occur almost anywhere, especially in a large city. In deciding whether the crime was foreseeable, Courts must consider whether any criminal conduct previously occurred on or near the property, how recently it occurred, how often it occurred, how similar the conduct was to the conduct on the property, and what publicity was given the occurrences to indicate that the landowner knew or should have known about them.