New Law Limits Premises Liability Related to Criminal Activity
A new law, which became effective on March 24, 2023, is intended to limit the liability of the owner or principal operator of a multifamily residential property for criminal acts that occur on the premises which are committed by third parties who are neither employees nor agents of the owner or operator.
This new law passed as part of HB 837, relating to Civil Remedies, is far-reaching and addresses many issues relating to the Florida’s civil justice system. Tucked into this bill is a new Section 768.0706, Florida Statutes, regarding “multifamily residential property safety and security” which includes protection from liability for the owner or principal operator of a multifamily residential property if certain enumerated security actions are taken. The term “multifamily residential property” is defined to include a group of residential buildings, such as apartments townhouses, or condominiums, consisting of at least 5 dwelling units on a particular parcel. The term “parcel” is defined to mean real property for which a distinct parcel identification number is assigned to the property by the property appraiser for the county in which the property is located.
One question that has been raised about the new law is whether a condominium association would be considered the owner or operator of a multifamily residential property, as that term is defined in the statute. The term “multifamily residential property” includes the term “condominiums” and there must be at least 5 dwelling units on a particular “parcel”. The term “parcel” requires a distinct parcel identification number assigned by the property appraiser. Many property appraisers (but apparently not all) have a separate and distinct parcel identification number for the condominium association. If your condominium association is considering implementing the following security measures in order to take advantage of this new law, you should first reach out to your condominium association attorney for guidance.
Essentially, the new law provides that the owner or principal operator of a multifamily residential property which substantially implements the following security measures on that property has a presumption against liability in connection with criminal acts which are committed by third parties who are not employees or agents of the owner or operato: that occur on the premises:
- A security camera system at points of entry and exit which records, and maintains as retrievable for at least 30 days, video footage to assist in offender identification and apprehension.
- A lighted parking lot illuminated at an intensity of at least an average of 1.8 foot-candles per square foot at 18 inches above the surface from dusk until dawn or controlled by photocell or any similar electronic device that provides light from dusk until dawn.
- Lighting in walkways, laundry rooms, common areas, and porches. Such lighting must be illuminated from dusk until dawn or controlled by photocell or any similar electronic device that provides light from dusk until dawn.
- At least a 1-inch deadbolt in each dwelling unit door.
- A locking device on each window, each exterior sliding door, and any other doors not used for community purposes.
- Locked gates with key or fob access along pool fence areas.
- A peephole or door viewer on each dwelling unit door that does not include a window or that does not have a window next to the door.
- A crime prevention through environmental design assessment, completed by January 1, 2025, and performed by a law enforcement agency or a designated Florida Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Practitioner (designated by the Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute of the Department of Legal Affairs), where the owner or operator remains in substantial compliance with the assessment.
- Proper crime deterrence and safety training to current employees by January 1, 2025, and to an employee hired after that date within 60 days of his or her hire.
The term “proper crime deterrence and safety training” means training which trains and familiarizes employees with the security principles, devices, measures, and standards described above, and which is reviewed at least every 3 years and updated as necessary. The owner or principal operator may request a law enforcement agency or the Florida Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Practitioner performing the assessment to review the training curriculum. The Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute of the Department of Legal Affairs shall develop a proposed curriculum or best practices for owners or principal operators to implement such training.
For purposes of establishing the presumption against liability, the burden of proof is on the owner or principal operator to demonstrate that the owner or principal operator has substantially implemented the security measures specified which begs the question as to what constitutes substantial compliance. Other questions stemming from this new law include whether installing items such as security cameras, lights and gates would no longer be considered material alterations requiring advance membership approval; how an association may install items like door bolts and peepholes when those doors are part of the units and not common elements; and whether an association needs to train a vendor’s employees on security measures. This new law certainly warrants a review of your current security protocol and a discussion with your legal counsel, management team and security company if you have one.
As always, stay tuned for our upcoming Legislative Guidebook after the 2023 Session ends.