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Tenant cannot sue landlord for harboring armed, dangerous individual

David Youmans sued his landlord, BWA Properties, claiming that his landlord should be responsible for injuries inflicted on Youmans by one Mark Aird who stabbed Youmans in Youman's boarding house.  Youmans noted that the boarding house had rules prohibiting weapons and limiting visitors which were consistently violated by Aird.  He also claimed that Aird was known to have a propensity toward violence, to have a criminal background, a possible drinking problem and to constitute a hazard to tenants.  Youmans argued that if the boarding house had enforced its rules, he would not have been assaulted by Aird, who constituted a "nuisance" on the premises.

The Court pointed out that under so-called Engler Majority rules, a landlord owes a duty to protect tenants from criminal activity by a third-party only when a dangerous condition on the property enhances the likelihood of exposure to criminal assaults, or when a possessor fails to respond reasonably to an ongoing criminal act.  As another Court of Appeals described it, "public safety is a governmental concern," not a duty of property owners.

The Court concluded on this basis that BWA owed no duty to Youmans arising out of the habitual presence of Aird on the property, even if he was a dangerous individual who consistently violated the boarding house rules. This certainly seems like questionable public policy, and to justify the holding, the judges pointed to the semantic difficulty of characterizing Aird as a "condition of the premises."  That is troubling, however, as the appellate courts have used this exact analysis to eliminate liability for landowner's negligent actions, if the actions play a role in an injury caused by a condition of the premises.  Under MCL 554.139, a landlord owes the duty to keep common areas reasonably safe, and it should make no technical difference whether the hazard is an exposed electrical wire or an exposed human "live wire."

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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