On November 25, 1997, Suzette and Howard Hemmings entered into an agreement with the Pelham Wood…

On November 25, 1997, Suzette and Howard Hemmings entered into an agreement with the Pelham Wood Limited Liability Limited Partnership (the Landlord) to lease a two-bedroom apartment at Pelham Wood, a multibuilding apartment complex consisting of 400 units in Baltimore County, Maryland. The provisions in the lease include the following:

• The Landlord has the right to enter the apartment at any time by master key or force to make repairs/alterations in the apartment or elsewhere on the property;

• The Landlord has the responsibility for repairs to the apartment, its equipment and the appliances furnished by the Landlord;

• The apartment will be made available such that it will not contain conditions that constitute, or if not properly corrected, would constitute a fire hazard or a serious and substantial threat to the life, health or safety of occupants;

• The tenant agrees that the Landlord shall not be liable for an injury, damage, or loss to person or property caused by other tenants or other persons or caused by theft, vandalism, fire, water, smoke, explosion, or other causes unless the same is exclusively the omission, fault, negligence or other misconduct of the Landlord;

• The tenant will not change the locks on the doors of the Premises or install additional locks, door knockers, chains or other fasteners without the prior written permission of the Landlord. The Hemmings’s apartment was located on the second floor, just above a ground-level apartment. A sliding glass door in the Hemmings’s apartment allowed access to a rear patio balcony overlooking a wooded area. In an attempt to deter criminal activity at or around the apartment complex, the Landlord testified that it had installed exterior lighting around the property, each apartment had a regular lock as well as a dead bolt on the front door, patio apartments had a Charlie Bar (a horizontally mounted bar securing the sliding glass doors), and the ground floor apartments had an alarm system. At approximately 1:17 AM one morning in June, an unidentified intruder entered the Hemmings’s apartment through the sliding glass door, and, upon encountering Howard Hemmings, shot him twice in the abdomen. He died later that morning from the wounds. The contractor, hired by the Landlord to come in and repair the sliding glass door, noted that the whole left side of the sliding glass door frame had been mutilated and the frame around the door was twisted, mangled, and destroyed. The locking mechanism no longer worked and had to be replaced. He found the cradle in which the Charlie Bar would rest still attached to the door—but no evidence of a Charlie Bar. Others living in the same building as the Hemmings, including the tenants living immediately below their apartment, testified that there were no light fixtures at the rear of that building at that time and that it was pitch black and really dark at night. They said it improved only when the Landlord installed additional lights after the Hemmings incident. Police Department logs indicated there had been numerous tenant complaints of criminal activity in and around the complex, but the Landlord did not keep any records of criminal activity there. Suzette Hemmings filed a wrongful death action against the Landlord. Does a landlord have a duty to repair a known dangerous or defective condition under its control to prevent a foreseeable third-party attack upon a tenant within leased premises?

 

 

 

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