Liability for Criminal Acts at Apartment Complexes

If you have paid attention to the news in Houston recently, then you have seen reports of a wide range of criminal activity at apartment complexes throughout the city including home invasions, sexual assaults, or shootings. Often times when these events occur the apartment complex can be found liable for not adequately protecting its residents. When these unfortunate events happen, there are certain things you need to look for in order to establish liability.

The seminal modern Texas case on a premises owner’s liability for criminal acts of third parties is a 1998 Texas Supreme Court case, Timberwalk Apartments, Partners v. Cain. In Timberwalk, an apartment tenant was raped in her apartment by an intruder.

In the Timberwalk case the court noted five factors that courts should consider in determining whether a landowner should have foreseen specific criminal conduct on a premises: 1. the proximity of previous crimes to the premises, 2. how recently previous crimes occurred, 3. how often previous crimes occurred, 4. the similarity of previous crimes to the crime at issue, and 5. the publicity surrounding previous crimes.

The proximity of other crimes is the first factor. The other crimes must have been “on the property or in its immediate vicinity.” The Timberwalk court noted that most courts have looked to “narrow geographic areas.” The court did observe, however, that evidence of “remote criminal activity” can indicate that crime is approaching a landowner’s property, but the evidence must be “especially strong” and it “must show that the risk of criminal conduct on the landowner’s property is not merely increasing but has reached a level to make crime likely.”

How recently and how often previous crimes occurred are the second and third factors. The Timberwalk court noted that a significant number of crimes within a short time period strengthens the crime victim’s claim of foreseeability, but that the absence of crimes or “very few” crimes occurring over an extended time period “negates the foreseeability element.”

The similarity of previous crimes is the fourth factor. The previous crimes must be sufficiently similar to place the landowner on notice of the specific danger. But the Timberwalk court cautioned that “the prior crimes need not be identical” and that a string of assaults and robberies in an apartment complex may make the risk of other violent crimes like murder and rape, foreseeable. The court also noted that even property crimes may be relevant because “an apartment intruder initially intent upon stealing may decide to assault a tenant discovered inside, even if the tenant avoids confrontation.”

If you or someone you know has been harmed at an apartment complex due to the criminal acts of others, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling (713) 222-7211 or toll free at 713-222-7211.