Multifamily Security Laws Across the United States
There’s an old axiom in real estate: location, location, location. When it comes to multifamily security laws, the same principle applies. Rules depend a great deal on where the building is located, as both the state and municipality can set them.
Generally, building owners are expected to provide a safe, secure space for tenants and their personal property. The duty of reasonable care legal standard dictates that the owner must take steps to reduce or eliminate risks. At a minimum, that includes a front door with a functioning lock, locking doors on each individual unit, fire exits, and smoke detectors inside each unit. Owners must also protect the building and property from vandalism, loitering, theft, break-ins, and other criminal activity. And federal initiatives like the Violence Against Women Act require landlords to protect tenants who are victims of certain crimes.
But that’s just a jumping-off point. Let’s break down what you can expect from multifamily security laws in various locations.
Multifamily Security Laws by State
Municipalities may amend or add to state-level regulations, so look at the municipal regulations, too. But states do issue multifamily security laws. They’re typically sweeping and broad, but no less important. State rules revolve primarily around deposits, leases, eviction procedures, screening, habitable housing, and tenant applications.
They may also include details on the landlord’s expected “due care,” “duty of care,” or “reasonable care.” This is the legal standard that requires you to provide security measures to protect the building, tenants, and property. If you don’t, you may be liable in the event of a crime. That’s especially likely if:
- The landlord is responsible for the area where the crime took place, like a common room or parking garage
- There were warning signs that a crime would or might happen (e.g. recent criminal activity)
- The landlord failed to take easy, affordable protective steps, such as replacing burnt-out lightbulbs or fixing a broken lock
Failure to provide minimal protection can end up being very costly, so don’t wait until it’s too late.
States may also indicate whether rekeying is required. Changing a lock or rekeying it—which involves adjustments to the lock itself so the old key no longer works—ensures previous tenants and employees no longer have access to a unit or building, even if they kept or copied a key. Some states require this process for new tenants, others make it available upon request, and still others don’t mention it at all. For example, New York has no rekeying laws at the state level, but it’s part of California’s state laws.
Multifamily Security Laws by Municipality
Obviously, it would far exceed the limits of this guide to include every municipality in the country. But let’s look at a sampling of major U.S. cities to get an idea of what you can expect. Anyone—landlord, property manager, tenant, interested individual—can find out the local rules by contacting their municipal government.
Security Obligations in Chicago
The third-most populous city in the country is home to 2.7 million residents, deep-dish pizza, and Wrigley Field.
Rekeying laws? Yes. In counties with 3 million people or more, the landlord must rekey or change the lock before a new tenant moves in.
Domestic violence and sexual assault protections? Since 2007, the Illinois Safe Homes Act has allowed for emergency and immediate changing of locks and/or lease termination for victims of these crimes.
Carbon monoxide detectors? Yes, within 15 feet of all areas intended for sleeping.
Specific requirements for Chicago: Apartment doors must have a peephole and deadbolt lock. And any window within 10 feet of the roof or fire escape or within 20 feet of the ground must have a lock that bolts it shut and locks it in a partially open position.
Find out more with the official City of Chicago Residential Landlord and Tenant Ordinance.
Security Obligations in Los Angeles
The second-most populous city in the US has 3.9 million residents, Hollywood, and more than 3,200 hours of sunshine every year.
Rekeying laws? Yes.
Domestic violence and sexual assault protections? Yes, victims can notify landlords of their intent to move out for security reasons. But they are responsible for the unit and rent for 30 days after the notice.
Carbon monoxide detectors? Yes.
Specific requirements for Los Angeles: All doors and windows that provide access to a unit must have working locks, and exterior doors must have a deadbolt and peephole. Security bars must include a quick-release feature on the interior to allow tenants to escape in the event of an emergency.
You can find out more via the L.A. Housing Department.
Security Obligations in New York City
With 8.5 million residents, NYC is the most populous in the country, and the city so nice they named it twice.
Rekeying laws? No.
Domestic violence and sexual assault protections? Lease termination is allowed for victims of domestic violence. The victim must supply a valid order of protection and/or evidence of a criminal charge within 24 days of notifying the landlord.
Carbon monoxide detectors? Yes, at least one per unit within 15 feet of sleeping areas.
Specific requirements for NYC: Functioning locks and chain-guard on every door to the unit—and a deadbolt in multifamily buildings with 3+ units. Window guards on every unit window with a child ten years old or younger, as well as any windows in common areas. Multifamily properties built or converted after January 1, 1968, must have a self-closing and automatic locking entry door, and properties with 8+ units must include a 2-way audio intercom system. Elevators must include a mirror that allows tenants to see if anyone is hiding inside before entering.
For more information, check out the Housing Maintenance Code.
Security Obligations in Boston
Beantown is home to Fenway Park, the Boston Marathon, Harvard, MIT, and 675,000 residents as of 2020.
Rekeying laws? Yes, upon request.
Domestic violence and sexual assault protections? Lease termination is possible. The tenant must provide written communication to the owner that someone is the victim (or fears becoming the victim) of violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
Carbon monoxide detectors? Yes, and it should be installed in or near the sleeping area of any building with fuel-burning appliances or an attached garage.
Specific requirements for Boston: Locks on windows and doors to prevent unauthorized access. An entry door that automatically closes and locks for any multifamily building with 3+ units.
The Office of Housing Stability can provide more detail.
See also: Is Boston Safe?
Security Obligations in Miami
Miami has hot and humid summers, warm and dry winters, and 442,000 residents as of 2020, making it the second-most populous city in Florida.
Rekeying laws? No.
Domestic violence and sexual assault protections? There are currently no laws in Florida to allow for early lease termination for these reasons.
Carbon monoxide detectors? Yes, but only in units with fuel-burning appliances or an attached garage.
The Miami-Dade County Office of Housing Advocacy can answer any questions you might have about your legal obligations.
Security Obligations in Philadelphia
The Liberty Bell, the iconic statue of Rocky Balboa, and 1.6 million people call Philadelphia home. That makes it the most populous city in Pennsylvania.
Rekeying laws? No.
Domestic violence and sexual assault protections? There’s nothing at the state level, but Philadelphia ordinances allow for early lease termination without penalty for victims of violence or assault.
Carbon monoxide detectors? Yes, for any unit with an attached garage, fossil fuel-burning appliances, or a fireplace.
Specific requirements for Philadelphia: The front door and all additional exterior doors must be self-closing and locking with auxiliary latch bolts. All windows accessible from the ground, fire escape, or other walkable surfaces must be equipped with sash locks. And all unit doors must be secured with a deadbolt.
Contact the City of Philadelphia’s Fair Housing Commission for more information.
See also: Top 10 Safest Cities in Pennsylvania
Security Obligations in Seattle
With 737,000 residents, breathtaking natural scenery, and a thriving metropolis, Seattle—the most populous city in Washington—has something for everyone.
Rekeying laws? Yes, locks and keys must be changed at the owner’s expense upon a change of tenancy.
Domestic violence and sexual assault protections? A victim or parent/guardian of a child who is the victim of an intrafamily offense can apply for early lease termination. They must provide a copy of an order in response to a petition filed on behalf of the tenant.
Carbon monoxide detectors? Yes, for dwelling units built or manufactured in Washington, although there are exemptions available for certain residential buildings.
Specific requirements for Seattle: All building entrance doors must be self-closing and locking and be equipped with a latch. Doors to units must not have glass openings but must lock via a deadbolt or latch and have a peephole. And windows within 10 feet of the ground or any deck, balcony, or porch must have functioning latches on the inside.
The Charter of the City of Seattle can answer any other questions you may have.
Think Beyond Minimum Security
As you can see, there is a lot of overlap from place to place. That said, it is your responsibility as a property owner or manager to investigate the local ordinances to ensure your multifamily building is safe, secure, and compliant.
One thing you’ll notice is absent from this sample of municipal regulations is a requirement for security products like cameras and motion detectors. These are typically not compulsory. But—and this is a big but—that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider them. As mentioned above, you may be liable for damage, financial loss, and emotional or psychological harm if one of your tenants is victimized in your building and they can demonstrate negligence on your part.
To protect yourself and your tenants, you need to go beyond the minimum requirements.
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