Landlords can be held accountable when their failure to keep their property safe causes someone to be injured. There is no more vivid example of this than allowing an apartment building to become so unsafe that a tenant is subjected to a sexual assault there.
Legally, the type of liability involved is usually called negligent security. This is a form of premises liability, under which property owners are responsible for dangerous conditions on their property.
In New York, the most high-profile example of negligent security is still probably the case of Jana Leo. Ms. Leo is an artist and author who wrote a book about her experience after she was raped by an armed man who got into her building because the locks on the lobby door were broken.
The book is called Rape New York.
Leo had repeatedly asked the landlord to repair the locks. But the landlord took no action, despite the fact that a break-in had occurred elsewhere in the building in Harlem.
After she was raped, Leo filed a civil lawsuit against the landlord. The case became a lengthy legal battle, but Leo eventually obtained a settlement from the landlord.
She also staged a conceptual art exhibition about the case, as well as writing her book.
Individually, tenants often feel as if they do not have much of a voice, especially when a landlord ignores their requests for repairs on locks and lighting needed to keep an apartment building reasonably safe. Leo’s case shows, however, that a tenant should not give up the fight.
Source: “Jana Leo’s Rape New York: Scary Tale About What Happens When a Bad Landlord Won’t Fix Your Front Door Lock,” Village Voice, Elizabeth Dwoskin, 2-3-11