Gun ownership has become a particularly heated topic over
the past decade, which prompts the question for many landlords: can you add a
clause into your lease that restricts or prohibits firearms? Unfortunately, the
answer isn’t clear-cut. In some circumstances, the answer may be dependent on
what your state law says. In other situations, it may come down to personal
preference, Second Amendment considerations, or concerns over negligence.
This guide will serve as an overview of the current laws
regarding gun ownership at rental properties, court cases that serve as a
precedent for gun-related issues, and the factors to consider when deciding
whether to allow firearms on your property.
Specific State Laws
State laws vary on the issue of gun ownership in general,
let alone whether landlords can legally have a say in the matter. If you’re
considering writing a “no guns at my property” clause into your lease, it’s essential
to know if your state or local governments have laws regarding the matter. Currently,
only four states have specific laws regarding landlords and guns at rental
- Minnesota – a landlord cannot restrict the lawful carry or possession of a firearm by tenants or their guests. Minnesota statute 624.714.
- Tennessee – A private landlord can prohibit tenants, including those who hold handgun carry permits from possessing firearms within a leased premise. Such a prohibition may be imposed through a clause in the lease. Tennessee statue 39-17-1307(b).
- Virginia – Public housing prohibits landlords from restrictions on gun possession for tenants. Virginia Rental Housing Act 1974 Tennessee 55-248.9.6.
- Wisconsin – Wisconsin’s gun laws are complicated regarding where a weapon can or cannot be possessed. If you have rentals in this state, it’s best to look up the most recent laws that pertain to your specific situation.
Beyond these, the remaining 46 states allow private
landlords to choose how they would like to handle the issue. However, there are
still constitutional and liability issues to consider before you write a “no
guns” clause into the lease.
Is Gun Ownership a Protected Class?
A protected class is a group of people who are protected
from discrimination by law. For example, in the Fair Housing Act, it’s
prohibited to discriminate based on a person’s race, religion, gender,
disability, familial status, or national origin. Denny Dobbins, General Legal Counsel,
argues that the Second Amendment could designate gun owners as a protected
class. He bases this on the rulings of two Supreme Court cases: District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald
v. City of Chicago.
There have been numerous debates over the actual meaning of
the Second Amendment. Some say that it’s referring to a collective right of the
people for forming a well-armed militia, while others argue it’s a personal
right. The issue was laid to rest in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. The court
case District of Columbia v. Heller examined whether the District of Columbia’s
Firearm Control Regulations Act of 1975 was unconstitutional. The Act banned
residents of the District of Columbia from owning handguns, automatic firearms,
or high-capacity semi-automatic firearms, as well as unregistered guns. The
only exceptions were for police officers and guns registered before 1976. In a
5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court endorsed the “individual-right” theory of the
Second Amendment’s meaning.
The Court held that the Second Amendment guarantees an
individual the right to possess firearms independent of service in a state
militia and that weapons can be used for traditionally lawful purposes,
including self-defense. The Heller case also established that the government could
impose firearm restrictions on mentally ill people and felons. That leaves the
question of states. How does federal law impact state laws?
That question was addressed in the 2010 Supreme Court case,
McDonald v. City of Chicago. The case arose over a challenge to the 1982
Chicago law banning new registration of handguns. The Supreme Court held that
the 14th Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear
arms for self-defense applicable to states. The 14th Amendment’s
third clause states, “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty,
or property without due process of law.” It also forbids states from passing
rules that contradict federal law. The Court declared that the right to
self-defense is a “fundamental” and “deeply rooted” right.
So, while private landlords can forbid the possession
of firearms at their property, it’s a gray area that could potentially be
challenged based on the Second and 14th Amendments. Since the Heller
and McDonald cases established gun ownership as a personal right, Dobbins
argues it could be considered a protected class if brought to court.
Factors to Consider Before Adding a “No Guns” Clause
Unless you reside in a state that prohibits you from
restricting gun ownership at your property, you can generally add a “no guns”
clause to your lease. With that in mind, it’s beneficial to look at the issue
from all angles.
Although most states are silent on a landlord’s rights
regarding gun restriction at their property, it could still be seen as infringing
on a tenant’s constitutional right. A tenant could argue that the landlord is
restricting their Second Amendment right and their ability to protect
themselves on the property. While there haven’t been any Supreme Court cases
regarding the matter, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t happen in the future.
That brings up another issue. What if you allow guns at your
property, and someone is injured by a tenant, either purposely or negligently?
Can you be held liable? Possibly; it depends on the situation. As a landlord,
you have a legal responsibility to keep your property safe. If the person who
was injured was a tenant at your property, they could potentially bring a claim
against you, stating that your gun policy was responsible for their injury and
violated their right to safety. If you choose to have guns at your property,
it’s a good idea to check your insurance policy to see what is and isn’t
covered regarding firearms.
On the other hand, prohibiting guns at your property could
also be a legal issue. Let’s say you ban guns, and someone breaks into your
tenant’s home and injures them. Could you be held liable in this circumstance?
Again, possibly. The tenant could argue that your “no guns” policy prevented
them from being able to defend themselves and that the injury wouldn’t have
happened otherwise. They could also say the lease clause violates their Second
If you do choose to prohibit guns, there’s also the issue of
enforcement. Unless a tenant is brandishing a weapon, there’s no legitimate way
to know whether one has been brought onto the property. You can’t go into their
home and conduct inspections, so you have to take the tenant at their word when
they sign the lease agreement. Even in Tennessee, where landlords have a legal
right to prohibit guns, there’s no practical way to enforce such a rule.
For many landlords, the issue isn’t so much about having
guns at the property as it is preventing negligent or harmful actions. No
landlord wants their tenants walking around common areas brandishing a firearm.
This type of behavior can be controlled with the inclusion of carefully worded
Proposed Lease Clauses
According to Dobbins, when a private landlord chooses to ban
guns at their property, they may face liability and constitutional infringement
concerns. However, there are a few clauses you can include to protect your
rights as a landlord.
- “This is a landlord-tenant relationship, and the
landlord has no control over your unit or the home. The tenant has sole control
of the dwelling unit.”
This clause directly relates to a sad case that occurred in
Kansas City in 2006. A landlord rented out a single-family home and gave the
tenant the right to sole possession of the premises. The landlord also included
a clause that prohibited any member of the household from participating in any
form of illegal activity on the premises, as well as prohibit the unlawful
possession or discharge of a firearm. The tenant’s child accidentally
discharged a loaded gun and killed a visitor to the property, and both the
tenant and landlord were sued for damages. The court ruled that because the
lease stated the landlord had no control over the property, the landlord was
not liable for the visitor’s death. Thompson v. Tuggle, 183 S.W.3d 611 (Mo.
However, if a tenant is acting erratically at a multifamily
property, and you’re is aware of this, the you have a responsibility to ensure
the safety of their tenants. You should decide with legal counsel whether the
tenant poses a risk to other people on the property. If so, you should take
reasonable measures to correct the situation. This is especially important if
weapons are allowed on the property. You should monitor the property to make
sure that firearms aren’t brandished or misused.
- “If you have any firearms, you must keep your weapons inside your unit at all times and out of view of open windows and doors, absent legitimate self-defense of others.”
- “If you openly bring a firearm onto the common areas, you will be evicted. You must keep your weapon to yourself, safely tucked away in the private confines of your apartment unit or home and not visible to other tenants, neighbors, or staff.”
Dobbins says he includes the following “no weapons in the
common area” clause within his leases under a section called “Weapons”:
“Weapons of any kind, including but not limited to, dart
guns, air guns, BB guns, slingshots, handguns, rifles, or any mechanism that
could be used to propel an object that could cause harm to person or property,
are not allowed in the common areas, are not allowed in the office, are not
allowed anywhere on the premises outside of the actual unit. Weapons are not
allowed to be displayed, shown, exposed, demonstrated, or exhibited anywhere in
the community premises, except in case of self-defense or immediate need for
imminent and immediate protection of residents’ life or property, or for
self-defense or immediate and imminent protection of resident, resident’s
occupants, guests, or invitee’s life, or property.
If a resident wants to possess a legal weapon in the resident’s
unit, in that case, the resident must safely and inconspicuously carry said
legal weapon to and from the resident’s unit in a manner that ensures other
residents and staff do not see the weapon. Illegal weapons are never allowed
visibly on the property outside of the unit. If the resident or resident’s
occupants do possess a legal weapon in the unit, the resident shall be
responsible for the proper and safe possession, handling, and storage of the said
weapon. The landlord is not and shall not be responsible in any way to
resident, occupants, guests, or invitees for any accidental, negligent, or
intentional act involving any weapon or discharge thereof on, near, or off the
This clause covers a lot of ground. It doesn’t infringe on
rights that were established in the Heller and McDonald cases, but it makes it
very clear that there are specific rules regarding weapons at the property that
will be subject to eviction if violated.
What About Restricting Ammunition at Your Property?
Can private landlords also restrict how much ammunition a
tenant can have at the property? Or prohibit ammunition completely? Yes, but
you come up against the same issues as with gun ownership.
Should Property Managers Have Guns?
There have been several cases around the nation where
property managers have been shot by tenants facing eviction; should they have
guns for their protection? That question is best left to the property
management company. If a management company has armed staff, then they face
questions of liability as well. If a staff member uses a firearm, will the
company get sued? If a staff member is prohibited from having a weapon and they
encounter a bad situation, will the company get sued? What if they have a gun,
but don’t use it?
In this case, Dobbins suggests a compromise may be the
safest choice. Property management staff shouldn’t be required to have a
weapon, but their Second Amendment right shouldn’t be infringed either. If
staff members choose to carry a concealed weapon lawfully, that’s their choice.
However, Dobbins also warns that they shouldn’t carry a gun openly. It’s
recommended to consult with your attorney and insurance carrier before deciding
on the matter.
It’s Ultimately Your Decision as the Landlord
Regardless of the politics surrounding guns, they need to be
dealt with in a practical way. Unless you live in one of the four states that
have specific laws regarding the matter, there aren’t any straightforward
answers about how you should handle guns at your rental properties. Each
private landlord must decide where they stand on the matter based on all the
factors involved. For additional peace of mind, you should also consult with
your attorney and insurance broker to ensure you’re making a lawful and
informed decision. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s clearly laid out
in writing in your lease with no room for misinterpretation.