Landlord's Duty to Prevent Rape Cases In California

In 7735 Hollywood Blvd. Venture v. Superior Court (1981) 116 Cal. App. 3d 901, 172 Cal. Rptr. 528, plaintiff was raped in her apartment and sued her landlord, claiming that it had a duty to provide lighting and security devices sufficient to prevent the attack. The court rejected the claim, on the ground that plaintiff had not alleged sufficient foreseeability of the attack to justify the vague and onerous duty she sought to impose on the defendant. ( Id. at p. 905.) In Pamela W. v. Millsom (1994) 25 Cal. App. 4th 950 (Pamela W.), the plaintiff was raped by an intruder into her condominium, one of four in the condominium complex. During the rape, the assailant called Pamela by name, and told her that he had been watching her. She sued her landlords alleging negligence, and they obtained summary judgment on the ground that they owed her no duty, as the attack was not reasonably foreseeable in the absence of prior similar incidents on the premises. ( Id. at pp. 953-955.) On appeal, the court undertook an analysis of the landlords' duty in light of Ann M., and affirmed, concluding that the rape was not sufficiently foreseeable to impose the extraordinarily burdensome duty upon the defendants to physically secure the premises in the manner demanded by the plaintiff. (Pamela W., supra, at p. 959.) By contrast, in Kwaitkowski v. Superior Trading Co. (1981) 123 Cal. App. 3d 324, 176 Cal. Rptr. 494, plaintiff was raped in a common area in her apartment building, and sued the landlord, alleging that the lock to the common hallway was broken and that a robbery had previously occurred in the same hallway. The court held that the burden of fixing the lock on the lobby door placed the landlord under such a minimal burden that the slight foreseeability of the rape engendered by the prior robbery in the same location was sufficient to impose a duty on the landlord to provide the "first line of defense" against intruders by providing working locks. ( Id. at p. 333.)