From Landlording: A Handymanual for Scrupulous Landlords and Landladies Who Do It Themselves (11th ed. 2010), p. 337:
Selecting “Harmless” Employees and Tenants
Whenever you’re selecting employees and tenants, be especially cautious in determining whether they might pose a physical threat to others….
If they should ever harm a tenant physically during an argument or run down a tenant’s child while driving drunk …, and if ther happened to have been something in their past which you should have discovered, something which would have indicated that they might indeed hurt somebody, and you didn’t even attempt to discover it, you will be held responsible for having hired them or rented to them in the first place, and you will be called upon to compensate their victims.
When you check out their applications, look for missteps in their past. If you find anything suspicious, reject them. Don’t take pity on people who have checkered pasts, thinking that you’re the one who ought to give them a second or a tenth chance. You’re not in the business of rehabilitating people who’ve gone wrong. You’re in the business of providing secure, safe housing to good people.
if you find no missteps while checking into your applicants’ background, but they go sour anyway while they’re working for you or renting from you, at least you can’t be faulted for having failed to investigate them to begin with. You tried.
What do you folks think about this? Overreaction — no landlord would be held liable if he rents to someone with a history of sex offenses, or even just a history of assault or drunk driving, and the person then injures a cotenant or a neighbor? (The theory would be negligence, on the grounds that bringing someone who has shown signs of being dangerous into the apartment building unreasonably increases the risk of harm to other tenants.) Proper reaction, which speaks well of the legal system, since landlords indeed shouldn’t rent to tenants who have criminal convictions that reflect that they are a danger to those around them? Or a sensible reaction on a landlord’s part, but one that reflects a socially undesirable effect of the tort law system?
UPDATE: Whoops — originally cited the book as being “11th Cir. 2010,” instead of “11th ed. 2010” — of course, it’s a book, not a circuit court decision.