Condominium Trust Has Duty of Care to Protect Residents from Crimes

Since the gruesome May 5, 2017, double murder of two doctors in their penthouse South Boston condominium unit, multiple lawsuits have ensued. The murderer, now convicted of two charges of first-degree murder, lurked inside the 11th-floor hallway of the condominium and attacked one of the victims when she returned home. The murderer had worked in the building as a concierge in 2016 and had completed a recent jail sentence for two bank robberies just weeks before the murders. Familiar with the building, the murderer used a security vulnerability known by him and others in the past – accessing the building by following a car into the garage, he got on the garage elevator and waited for it to be called to a residential floor. From there, he took the stairs to access the victims’ 11th floor penthouse unit.

Approximately nine months before the murders, one of the victims had complained via e-mail to property management that the 11th floor was being accessed by others via an unlocked stairwell, despite that it was supposed to be accessible only by penthouse residents. Although building management acknowledged the issue, nothing was done to secure the 11th floor until after the murders. Wrongful death lawsuits were filed by the estates of the victims against the Condominium Trust (“Trust”). The Trust filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal in its favor, arguing it had no legal duty to protect residents from criminal activities of third parties. The Court disagreed.

Looking to similar cases decided by the Supreme Courts of California and Arizona, the Honorable Christine M. Roach held that condominium associations should be held to the same standard of care for common areas as a landlord. She went on to state that “…the existence of opportunistic crime, including violent crime, accessed through public areas is a foreseeable face of everyday life for most citizens, and condominium complexes are no exception.” The Court concluded that the murderer’s intrusion into the building in the manner he accomplished it, and the harm that resulted, was foreseeable, and therefore the Trust owed a duty of care to the victims.

Condominium associations must take this ruling seriously. A substantial part of Judge Roach’s ruling referenced the security responsibilities in the management company and concierge company contracts. This ruling highlights why competent counsel should be retained to negotiate contracts between the Trust and management/security companies. In addition, the Court’s decision was largely based on evidence in the record that the Trust was aware of many of the condominium’s security vulnerabilities, had discussed them and the need for upgrades at the meetings of the Board of Trustees (but not implemented them), and the Trust had sent notice to residents about various security concerns that could have been addressed. If a security vulnerability is discussed or discovered by a condominium trust, it must take prompt action to address the vulnerability and protect residents from opportunistic crime, which the Court has now deemed to be a foreseeable fact of everyday life. Cameras, lighting and automatic doors may not go far enough.

Condominium unit owners must also take note of the Court’s ruling in this matter. Litigation against a condominium association can impact the value of units in the condominium, make resale difficult and can also potentially result in costly assessments to unit owners if the Trust does not have sufficient insurance coverage. Buyers of condominium units should retain competent counsel to perform full and complete due diligence prior to closing.



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