In their June 2016 issue, the Real Estate Bar Association newsletter published Attorney Krems' article "Criminal history screening procedures focus of newly issued HUD guidance."
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.
Article by Kenneth Krems for New England Assisted Housing Management Association publication
Most landlords, once they have police reports or other sufficient evidence, act quickly to rid their communities of residents who are engaging in illegal activity in their apartments or in the common areas. But what about non-residents who are hanging out in the common hallways, courtyards or parking lots of a property and selling drugs, carrying guns, or just harassing residents? These individuals may be total strangers, but often are the adult children of residents who have gotten older and moved out. What obligations does a landlord have to rid its property of these non-residents and what steps can a landlord take?
In a recent case involving the New Bedford Housing Authority, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court shed some light on a landlord's obligations in such instances. Several residents had sued the Housing Authority, claiming that, while there had been some attempts to evict residents who were engaging in illegal activity, not much had been done about non-residents who were coming on the property and dealing drugs. A lower court had dismissed the residents' case prior to trial. The Supreme Judicial Court stated that under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 186, section 14, the "quiet enjoyment" statute, residents have a right to be protected against a serious interference with their tenancy and the character and value of the leased premises. If a landlord takes little or no action to remove individuals who are engaging in illegal activities in the common areas, and the result is that the residents are unable to use those areas as the landlord had originally promised, then the landlord is probably breaching the covenant of quiet enjoyment.