13 Is My Friend
Friends across the country often ask me when
I'm going to move out of California. It's too expensive they
say. People are crazy. While the latter is a topic for another
day, the former is not entirely true. I'm here for the sunshine
Prop 13 holds our property taxes at 1% of
the assessed value of our home; it is only reassessed when
there is a change of ownership. Furthermore, property taxes
cannot be increased more than 2% per year. Other states reassess
properties frequently (many on an annual basis), and many
don't have caps on increases. So even if you can get an enormous
estate in Texas for $300K, you will pay around $6,000 in annual
property taxes. If you want to know what that feels like,
multiply your current tax by 3. I'll help you with your "moving
out" garage sale.
Prop 13 is a constitutional amendment. It
cannot be changed. Or can it? In 2000, Prop 39 lowered the
threshold to pass school bonds from 66% to 55%. Before Prop
39, only 42% of school bond measures were passed; after Prop
39 the number went to 88%. Great grandchildren of Poway residents
will be paying for their school bond long after we are in
There is a growing effort to modify Prop
13 to allow commercial properties to be reassessed no matter
what percentage of ownership has changed. Anyone who rents,
either residential or for business, should be very concerned.
Does anyone doubt that those increases will be passed along
to the leasee? With billions in unfunded pension liability,
Gov. Brown is looking for money (gas tax anyone?). He is also
talking about a single-payer healthcare system for CA. Property
taxes are where the real dollars are and our legislature is
hungry for it.
For those who believe that some of their neighbors
aren't paying their fair share in property tax simply because
they have lived here longer, remember that someone who has
lived here for 20 years may have lower property taxes but
they have paid those taxes for 20 years. In summary, that's
a good trade-off since I know what my tax liability will be
every year; I can budget around that.
Sometimes I feel like a resident in Frankenstein's
castle. The citizens are carrying torches and pitchforks,
demanding that I come outside and pay for sin of living in
California - in my own home no less. How dare I? Stay vigilant
my friends and neighbors.
By Helen Yoder
Liability and Criminal Activity
Posted by Sarah Kolvas | Jan 31, 2017
Residential landlords are responsible for
the maintenance and security of properties they rent or lease
to tenants. But are landlords also required to protect tenants
from criminal activity? Do landlords risk liability for failing
to screen prospective tenants for a criminal history or to
evict tenants who commit crimes?
We take a look at a notable California Supreme Court decision
to explore the duties landlords owe to their tenants to ward
off crime and maintain safety standards for all who enter
Landlord duties call for reasonable foreseeability
Consider a landlord who leases a residential property to a
tenant. The residential manager suspects the tenant is a member
of a local gang engaged in criminal activity, though does
not have proof. During their tenancy, a tenant in another
unit reports multiple incidents of verbal harassment from
the tenant. The landlord does not take action. Later, the
tenant is involved in a gun fight on the property with another
individual and collaterally shoots a tenant in another unit,
The injured tenant seeks compensation from the landlord, claiming
the landlord is liable for their injuries since the landlord
was aware of inappropriate behavior by the tenant and did
not evict the tenant to ensure the safety of fellow residents.
The landlord claims they are not liable since the tenant's
past conduct was insufficient in its nature to provide the
landlord reasonable foreseeability the tenant would
engage in gunfire and injure another tenant.
Is the landlord liable for the other tenant's injuries? No!
The California Supreme Court ruled the landlord did not have
a duty to evict the offending tenant since their behavior
and suspected criminal associations did not create reasonable
foreseeability the tenant would engage in gun violence and
harm fellow tenants on the property. [Castaneda v. Olsher
(2007) 41 C4th 1205]
Further, the burden placed on the landlord to evict the tenant
- a monetary loss - was deemed greater than the foreseeability
of the events causing the neighbor's injury, absolving the
landlord of responsibility. Prior harassment of a tenant did
not indicate the occurrence of gun related injury.
Defining reasonable foreseeability
To keep tenants and visitors safe from harm, residential landlords
are required to use ordinary care in managing the condition
of their property. [Calif. Civil Code §1714(a)]
Landlords need to take safety precautions for unsafe conditions
that are reasonably foreseeable. This duty to assure
the safety of others occurs when:
- prior occurrences exist (such as
assault or robbery due to unsafe conditions);
- the unit lacks ordinary security
installments, such as adequate door locks and lighting;
- housing and building codes specify
safety measures to be taken by the landlord.
When a reasonably foreseeable danger
exists which is known to the landlord and a tenant or visitor
is injured on the premises, the landlord is typically liable
for the resulting injuries due to their failure to install
security features or take security measures to protect others
on the property from the risk of an injury from the known
However, the definition of "reasonably foreseeable"
is relative to conditions bringing about the injury. Thus,
courts apply the standard on a case-by-case basis, determined
by the surrounding facts. As pointed out in Castaneda, determining
reasonable foreseeability requires balancing:
- the probability of harm to
- the burden of duty imposed
on the landlord.
Ultimately, the foreseeability of harm
needs to be great enough to justify imposition of a duty on
the landlord to implement additional safety measures. When
the foreseeability of harm to others on the property from
a dangerous situation or condition is small compared to a
high burden on the landlord, courts excuse a landlord's inaction.
For example, a property with no prior incidents of crime presents
minimal foreseeability of harm to tenants and guests, while
employing a security guard places a high burden of costs on
the landlord in all but the largest properties. Here, the
landlord is not liable for harm to a tenant caused by a crime
against them on the property. [Ann M. v. Pacific Plaza
Shopping Center (1993) 6 C4th 666]
However, when harm can be prevented by simple means, thus
placing a low burden of cost on the landlord, a lesser degree
of foreseeability of harm is the rule for imposing liability
on the landlord.
For example, when a landlord fails to replace a missing window
pane on the entry door of a rental unit and a criminal forces
their entry through the window, the landlord is liable. Here,
replacing the window places a small burden on the landlord
to mitigate danger, regardless of how foreseeable the crime
was. [Vasquez v. Residential Investments, Inc. (2004) 118
Other factors considered by courts when determining reasonable
- any consequences to the community
for imposing a duty on the landlord;
- the cost and availability of insurance
to cover the risk;
- the degree of certainty a tenant
will be harmed;
- the correlation between the landlord's
(in)action and the tenant's injuries; and
- the moral blame placed on the landlord
for their conduct.
Helpful rules to abide by:
1. When implementing a security feature to minimize crime
is fairly simple and of modest cost, a landlord is best advised
to follow through with it to reduce their exposure to liability.
2. When recurring criminal or dangerous conduct by a tenant
or others creates a high level of foreseeable harm to others,
a landlord is best advised to adopt appropriate security measures
or remove the offending tenant.
Screening prospective tenants
Castaneda confirms landlords cannot refuse to rent to prospective
tenants they suspect of having gang affiliations or who "appear"
to be of a type involved in criminal activity.
Such a screening practice encourages arbitrary housing
discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, family
composition, gender and appearance - a violation of the
California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and
the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) that separately
expose the landlord to civil liability. [Calif. Government
Code §12900, et seq.; 42 United States Code §3601,
Further, landlords are prohibited from enforcing blanket bans
on applicants based on their having any type of criminal
record, according to
recent guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development (HUD).
Landlords need not seek out criminal records since investigating
every tenant imposes a significant burden on the landlord
and deprives Californians of housing. Likewise, denying applicants
who have any criminal record disproportionately impacts racial
minority and low income groups which are convicted and incarcerated
at higher rates - a discriminatory effect in violation of
fair housing laws.
Thus, landlords who impose blanket bans on applicants with
any criminal record are subject to civil penalties and tenant
money losses for housing discrimination.
However, landlords may consider a tenant's criminal history
on a case-by-case basis and may exclude tenants with specific
types of convictions involving conduct that is inappropriate
in a housing complex to ensure the safety of existing tenants
- though, again, this exclusion due to a tenant's criminal
convictions for acts endangering others is not mandatory.
To lawfully implement housing restrictions based on criminal
history, landlords are required to be able to prove their
screening policy justifiably serves a substantial nondiscriminatory
interest, e.g., when a prospective tenant's criminal conviction
relates to activity which poses a demonstrable threat to fellow
tenants. [24 Code of Federal Regulations §100.500]
Thus, a landlord cannot rely on assumptions that a tenant
with a criminal conviction poses a criminal risk to other
tenants or their guests. The landlord needs to consider:
- the nature and severity of the activity
leading to the conviction; and
- the amount of time that has passed
since the crime occurred. [Green v. Missouri Pacific
R.R. (1975) 523 F.2d 1290]
HUD recommends landlords also consider
additional information about a tenant, such as:
- facts and circumstances surrounding
the criminal conduct;
- the age of the tenant at the time
of the crime;
- the tenant's rental history before
and after the conviction; and
- evidence of rehabilitation.
Further, to avoid liability, a landlord
needs to apply their screening methodology to all prospective
The takeaway: landlords owe no duty to screen tenants for
criminal activity, but may carefully review criminal records
of applicants and monitor property conditions to exclude those
applicants, tenants and hazards they can show demonstrate
a foreseeable risk to their tenants.