South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Existence of Gang Members in Rental Area Creates No Liability for Landlord
Description

California high court held that the owner of a mobile home park did not breach his duty to a tenant injured by the gunfire of gang members who lived in or frequented the park. The gunfire was not foreseeable, so there was no obligation to have provided security.

Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words

Landlord; Duty to Reject Tenants; Foreseeability; Gang Activity

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Olsher owned a mobile home park in El Centro. Rogers lived at and managed the 60-space park. Castaneda, age 17, lived at the park with his grandmother and sister. The home next to Castaneda’s was rented by Carmen Levario, but he did not live there. He let his son, Paul Levario, use it. Paul Lavario was identified by police as a member of the Northside El Centro gang. Castaneda’s grandmother and another tenant had complained to Rogers about Levario and his gang friends, but she said there was nothing she could do as the owner did not care who lived there as long as they paid rent. Rogers testified that she knew that several other gang members lived in the park and that they were dealing drugs and vandalizing the place. One night, Castaneda drove to his home with several friends. He went inside to get something while his friends waited. A car full of gang members visiting Levario pulled up, words were exchanged with Castaneda’s friends, and one of Levario’s friends started shooting, hitting Castaneda, who was coming back to the car. Castaneda sued Olsher for breach of duty of safety to the tenants by failing to evict Levario and other gang members and for not having greater security. The trial court dismissed the suit. The court of appeals reinstated it. Olsher appealed.

Decision

Reversed. Olsher had no duty not to rent to gang members absent circumstances making gang violence extraordinarily foreseeable. To establish a landlord’s duty to evict existing tenants for dangerous conduct, so as to establish liability to a tenant injured by gang violence, the plaintiff must show that violence by the tenants or their guests was highly foreseeable. The mobile home park owner had no duty to provide additional security guards or lighting, prior to the shooting. Just because some tenants complained of gang members did not provide an obligation to evict them. Although gang members were present in the park, no previous incidents of gang gun violence had occurred and guards or lighting would not have deterred the gunfire in this instance.

Citation

Castaneda v. Olsher, 162 P.3d 610 (Sup. Ct., Calif., 2007)

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