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Insecurity Complex
by Ron Davis

Security protection afforded by a shopping center can sometimes stop just outside the doors of its tenants' businesses.

So ruled a Georgia court in a case in which the issue was raised of the obligation of shopping center owners to protect their tenants from crimes committed on the tenants' premises.

Details in the case show that a shopping center located in Augusta had leased space to General Cinemas for the operation of a movie theater. The manager of that theater, while working alone one morning before the theater opened for business for the day, was robbed, bound and gagged, and locked in her closet until coworkers found her several hours later.

She sued the shopping center owners, charging that they were negligent in failing to provide security protection for the theater.

The lease with General Cinemas does in fact discuss security protection that the shopping center is responsible for: in the common areas of the property. The lease states that "the landlord's common area costs means all costs of operating and maintaining" the common area surrounding the theater, and included among the costs and expenses are, at the option of the shopping center owners, "costs and expenses of police protection and security and security patrol."

But the lease contains no mention of a responsibility for security protection inside the theater. In fact, General Cinemas provided its own security for inside the theater and for the escort of employees while they made bank deposits.

In dismissing the lawsuit against the shopping centers owners, the judges explained, "It is clear from a reading of the entire General Cinemas lease that the parties intended the shopping center owners' duties to be limited to the common areas of the property, not the entirety of the property. In addition, a provision of the lease begins with the sentence: 'Landlord will operate, maintain and repair the common areas of the shopping center.' It then defines and describes common area costs. The only logical interpretation of the language given the entire lease is that the shopping center owners were responsible for providing security and police protection only for the common areas of the property and the common areas of the tenant's theater." (Sewell v Hull/Storey Development, LLC, 526 S.E.2d 878 [Ga.App. 1999])

Decision: December 1999
Published: April 2000



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