Case Update: Maryland Tenant Does Not Have a Duty to Protect Landlord's Property Against the Unforeseeable Criminal Actions of T


In this recent decision, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found that a tenant does not owe a common law duty to his/her landlord to protect rented property against unforeseeable criminal acts by third parties, absent some special relationship. The mere existence of a tenant-landlord relationship does not create a duty of care. In this case, the landlord (Evergreen Associates, LLC) owned a building and leased the first floor and a portion of the basement to Mr. Crawford, who operated a restaurant out of the premises. There was an entrance to the restaurant on the first floor, and a basement door that could only be locked/unlocked using a key from the outside. Following a fire that originated in the basement, the landlord filed a complaint against its tenant for negligence, alleging the fire was caused by some unknown third party that entered the building through the basement door and that tenant breached his duty of care in allowing the basement door to remain unlocked or failing to obtain keys from some previous employee. The tenant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing he did not owe any duty of care to the landlord against third party criminal activity. The Circuit Court of Allegany County agreed and granted the tenant's motion. The landlord appealed. However, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision, finding there exists no duty to control the conduct of a third person absent some special relationship, which was not present in a typical landlord-tenant relationship. Furthermore, even if a tenant was found to have a duty to his or her landlord, that duty could not be any broader than a landlord's duty to correct known and foreseeable dangerous conditions. In Evergreen, there was no history of criminal activity, so the resulting fire was not a foreseeable harm.

Notably, the Court also precluded the landlord from recovering under a breach of contract argument. While the lease between the parties contained a provision requiring the tenant to return the property in the same condition as when it was leased, Md. Code Ann. REAL PROPERTY Section 8-113 provides that clauses of that nature will not force a tenant to pay for damage destroyed by far absent a finding of negligence of fault by the tenant. As the Court already determined the tenant was not negligent, he could not then be found liable for breaching that portion of the lease.

Evergreen Assoc., LLC v. Crawford, No. 119 (Md. App. Sept 10, 2013)