Does Failure to Evict Drug Dealers Constitute Premises Liability?
Remarkably, a similar scenario was presented to North Dakota’s Supreme Court, except involving drug users who enter another user’s premises, use drugs, and die of an overdose. Before getting to what the higher court decided, let’s look at premises liability laws as they apply to Ohio landlords, and whether it is possible to hold drug dealers accountable for malfeasances that cause harm to other tenants.
Premises Liabilities in Ohio
Aside from those considered recreational users, Ohio code specifies that landlords are responsible for invitees (those that pay rent), licensees (an individual who may occasionally use the property) and trespassers (those without permissible purpose), although the latter two have fewer ‘protections’ than invitees.
Since 2001, most Ohio courts apply the doctrine of ‘attractive nuisance’ when children are trespassing, especially if landlords (et al) know their premises may be frequented by children or provide an attractive amenity, such as pool, which may prove hazardous. Recreational users are the only area of Ohio code that provides private nonresidential property owners immunity from liability.
Premises liability laws are applicable by case, with no set standard that an attorney will follow apart from what is prescribed by law.
How Law Applies to Illegal Drug Sales
Obviously, drug dealing is discouraged, and illegal, in Ohio. Regardless if prosecutable, landlords may have civil responsibility should injuries happen based on the classes of premises permission above.
Let’s say an individual who is renting an apartment decides to engage in selling illegal narcotics. Numerous tenants complain to the landlord that traffic and loud parties in the individual’s apartment are keeping their children awake, but the landlord fails to evict the tenant. Several days later, a tenant’s young child is caught between the dealer and another in an apparent feud and gets shot.
The ‘invitee’, who pays the rent judiciously but caused the injury on the landlord’s property, is arrested. Injured child’s tenant sues the landlord for willful negligence for knowing the problem existed but failing to remove it. The tenant would stand an excellent chance of winning.
What if the child trespassed on an owner’s nonresidential land, got caught in the crossfire of the same feud, and got shot? The shooter would undoubtedly be arrested, but the property owner may be found immune as the trespassers were not invited, nor could the landlord provide ‘reasonable care’ in preventing the shooting.
In the case we opened with above, North Dakota found that landlords in havens known for drug use have no duty to protect those who engage in such activity if the landlord is reasonably certain no such activity is transpiring. Little information as to whether the landlord knew of such activity was available. One judge in that case dissented.
Always Report Activity to Landlord
Tenants pay for their right to live peacefully. If during an average day you recognize illegal activity that may affect your peace, it is important to report such activity to the landlord. Document the date, time, and nature of the incident for future reference.
If changes are not enacted after repeated attempts to remedy the issue with your landlord, and an injury occurs to you or your child, retain an experienced premises liability attorney who may find just cause in holding them accountable.
Skilled representation of all premises liabilities is what Lafferty, Gallagher & Scott, LLC offers clients each day. If you have been injured due to landlord negligence, contact us by phone at 419-241-5500.