Liability for Criminal Activity Clarified
Article by Kenneth Krems for New England Affordable Housing Management Association publication
As you sleep, this is your nightmare: illegal activity is occurring on your property. You know about it, but do nothing to stop it. Then, as a result of the criminal activity, a person is killed on the property. A jury renders a huge verdict against you.
Could this actually happen? It certainly could, and it did in the Sherman Griffiths case. In May 1997, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided the appeal of the Griffiths case, and in so doing clarified the scope of a landlord's liability for criminal acts on the property.
In the case, a Dorchester apartment was being used for drug dealing, but the landlord took no steps to evict the tenant or even to report the telltale activity to the police. The landlord ignored these obvious signs of criminal activity at the apartment: there was heavy foot traffic; the tenant had minimal furniture and did not heat the apartment; almost every time the landlord came to collect the rent, a different man would give it to him; and the tenant installed his own new door to the apartment with two peepholes, the lower one being large enough to pass small packages through.