William & Mary Business Law Review


Leah Kesselman


Once based on the rendering of agricultural services, landlord-tenant agreements have become increasingly complex over the last century. In exchange for rent, modern landlords assume certain contractual obligations including an implied duty to keep their property habitable and a more explicit duty to protect their tenants from certain types of foreseeable harm. These duties have been broadly construed to mean that landlords must take reasonable steps to protect their tenants from foreseeable third-party crimes committed on the rental property. To this end, most states now require landlords to install and maintain basic security devices like locks and exterior lighting. Failure to properly maintain these devices can serve as a basis for both contract and tort liability.

This Note suggests that the duty to protect gives rise to another, related obligation: landlords must comply with tenant lock change requests where the requesting tenant is domestic violence victim who is seeking to exclude her abuser. Recent caselaw suggests that a landlord could face substantial liability if he does not perform the lock change. However, if the victim and abuser are both on the lease, performing the lock change could expose the landlord to a different set of legal and financial risks. This Note argues that the adoption of a uniform lock change law would reduce uncertainty and mitigate the heightened risk to landlords resulting from such a broad reading of their duties. This can be done most effectively by updating the Violence Against Women Act to include a mandatory, federal lock change law for domestic violence victims.