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Kline v. 1500 Massachusetts Ave. Apartment Corp

Citation. Kline v. 1500 Massachusetts Ave. Apartment Corp., 439 F.2d 477, 141 U.S. App. D.C. 370, 43 A.L.R.3d 311 (D.C. Cir. Aug. 6, 1970).
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Plaintiff, Kline (Plaintiff) a lessee of Defendant, 1500 Massachusetts Ave. Apartment Corp. (Defendant), was assaulted and robbed in a common hallway of Defendant’s apartment. Defendant was on notice that assaults were occurring in the hallway, but nonetheless stopped employing a doorman. Plaintiff sued for injuries sustained.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Landlords have a duty to take steps to protect tenants from foreseeable criminal acts committed by third parties in common areas of landlord’s property.


Plaintiff was a lessee of Defendant. While in the common hallway of Defendant’s apartment, Plaintiff was assaulted and robbed, sustaining serious injuries. A doorman had been employed in the past, but the entrances were unguarded at the time of Plaintiff’s assault. Defendant was on notice of an increasing number of assaults and robberies being perpetrated against tenants in the common hallways of the building. Plaintiff sued for the injuries she sustained. The District Court found in favor of the Defendant. Plaintiff appeals.


Was the District Court correct in ruling that there is no duty for a landlord to take steps to protect tenants from foreseeable criminal acts committed by third parties?


No. Judgment reversed and remanded.
* As a general rule, private individuals do not have a duty to protect others from criminal attacks. This standard has sometimes been applied in the past to landlord-tenant law. However, in this jurisdiction certain duties have been assigned to the landlord because of his control of common areas used by all tenants. Although these duties have traditionally been applied to physical defects, the duty also applies in the present case because he is the only party who has the power to make the necessary repairs or to provide the necessary protection.
* Other relationships between parties such as innkeeper-guests and carrier-passenger have resulted in similar rules. The common theme amongst these relationships is that the ability of one of the parties to provide for their own protection has been limited in some way by his submission to control of the other. Where, as in the present case, the landlord is on notice that crimes have occurred in a common area exclusively within his control, the crimes are likely to happen again and he has the exclusive power to take preventive action, the landlord is under a duty to take steps to protect tenants from foreseeable criminal acts.


Justice MacKinnon’s dissent omitted.


The Court was quick to point out that the landlord is not the insurer of the safety of his tenants, but only has the duty to take those measures within his power, which can reasonably expected to mitigate the risk of int.

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