What happen recently at Penn State is certainly a tragedy. Having graduated from Penn State – University Park in 2003 and recalling the frat parties held at Beta Theta Pi – it was difficult to imagine the grief and anguish felt by Tim Piazza’s friends and family. His unfortunate death, publicized in the national media, has brought the spotlight back onto underage and binge drinking on college campuses across America.
Fox News reports that, "the death of Tim Piazza led to one of the largest criminal indictments against a fraternity and its members in recent history. More than 1,000 counts were levied against 18 members of Beta Theta Pi, including eight who were charged with involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault." As we know, Nineteen-year-old Piazza passed away after enduring a brutal hazing ritual conducted by members of the fraternity Beta Theta Pi. As a landlord, you might have a few rentals in college towns across America. Perhaps you have included provisions in your lease agreement against keg parties or underage drinking. Even so, if a tragedy like this were to occur on your rental property, who is to blame? Could you, as the landlord and owner, get pulled into the situation as a responsible party? In this article, we’ll quickly examine the potentiality of this occurring.
Who is to blame?
According to "Bob Ottilie, the founder and chairman of the Student Justice Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates for students, believes there are other parties responsible for the tragedy." New Jersey 101.5 FM reports that, Ottilie believes that the responsibility also falls on the shoulders of the landlord of the fraternity house, as well as Penn State University. If you search on Google, you’ll find many different opinions of where the responsibility lies and who is to blame. This is an example of an individual citing his opinion about the landlord of the fraternity house holding responsibility for what occurred. If you’re a landlord with rentals in “college towns”, it’s probably in your best interest to protect yourself with a lease agreement. Renting your investment property to a Fraternity may come with more risk and liability that you need to weigh carefully whilst incorporating specific provisions in a lease agreement drafted by a qualified attorney.
A lease agreement may be signed by someone who is legally considered an adult within the United States. "In all states, a person has reached the age of majority and is a legal adult at the age of 18." However, science tells us a different story. NPR reports that, "Under most laws, young people are recognized as adults at age 18. But emerging science about brain development suggests that most people don't reach full maturity until age 25." For college students, it may be in your best interest to also ask their parents to co-sign on the lease agreement. Doing so brings a level of parental oversight to the provisions within the lease agreement, while also giving you (as the landlord) the right to pursue the parents for non-payment of rent.
For this tragic situation at Penn State, everyone involved that night leading to the untimely death of Mr. Piazza was an adult according to the legal definition -- including Piazza himself, who was 19 years old. When other litigious factors may be involved, is it really the landlords place to enforce lifestyle requirements onto tenants within the provisions of the lease agreement? That is a question we cannot answer, but it is something to think about when considering whom is to blame for this tragedy.
If the landlord in this case were to be held accountable then this would allow an entire realm of individuals to be sued for the faulty behavior, or accidental deaths of other "adults” on their rental property. Most landlords screen their tenants thoroughly prior to allowing a renter to move in. In cases where someone has tragically died, it is often easy to look for someone to blame. Ultimately, adults can choose their own behavior. Beyond putting the appropriate screening processes into place, it’s very difficult for landlord’s to continually monitor the lifestyle behaviors of tenants living in their property – especially college students.