A Reasonable Demand? Does a Landlord have a Duty to Install Security Bars on Tenants’ Windows at their Request?

Question:“Two of my tenants recently had their separate units broken into and some of their property was stolen. Now, several tenants in my building are asking me to install metal bars outside of their windows for protection, including tenants who live upstairs. Is this reasonable? What are my obligations as a landlord?”

One of the primary duties of a landlord is to maintain rental property in a safe and habitable condition. Having adequate security measures in place helps reduce potential liability for injury claims and makes good business sense.

California Civil Code Section 1941.3 states that a landlord must “install and maintain an operable dead bolt lock on each main swinging entry door of a dwelling unit and “install and maintain operable window security or locking devices for windows that are designed to be opened.” These rules may be expanded by other codes such as local building codes. However, a landlord does not have a specific statutory duty to install window bars.

Even though you may not have such a statutory duty, there is a general duty to implement reasonable security measures to protect tenants from foreseeable crimes.

To determine if window bars should be installed, you’ll need to look at all of the circumstances. This will give you a clear picture of the situation and help you decide whether the likelihood of future similar crimes warrants moving forward with the installation. First, conduct a thorough investigation to determine how the burglaries occurred. Inspect the property and make sure that it meets or exceeds the basic security standards imposed by state and local codes with regard to deadbolt locks, window locks and proper lighting. Consult with the police, neighbors and security vendors for solutions and information about crime in the neighborhood.

Next, consider the following factors: your property inspection results, how the two prior burglaries occurred, the crime rate in the neighborhood, your knowledge of similar incidents in the area, any complaints about security from tenants or others, security measures already in place, recommendations from police and others, etc.. Once you have considered these factors, honestly ask yourself whether it is likely that more burglaries or similar incidents will occur on the property in the future. If so, then it might be time to call a local vendor of window bars.

Of course, you will have to balance any need to provide a solution with the cost of providing it. It may be too costly to provide window bars for all or most of the tenants. However, you may be able to install the bars for tenants who have been burglarized and those on the lower level who may be at higher risk. Realize that the solution may not be that costly at all if implementing it allows you the retain good paying tenants for long periods of time.

Finally, remember that if you do install window bars, make sure that they comply with state and local codes as well. For example, California Health and Safety Code 13113.9 requires that the bars have a safety release for opening in case of emergency.

The above article was recently published in the July 2013 edition of Rental Housing Magazine, the official monthly publication of the East Bay Rental Housing Association.

If you have any questions, please contact Leon H. Rountree III, 510-343-6299.

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