Can a Tenant Break the Lease After a Robbery?

Written on May 26, 2015 by , updated on October 14, 2018

Breaking a Lease After a RobberyYour tenant just called in a panic, telling you she was robbed.

She no longer feels safe living in your rental property, wants to break her lease, and she wants her full security deposit back.

What should you do?

Robbery of Their Unit

The answer is not cut and dry, and generally speaking, the answer depends on who and what caused the robbery.

If you, as the landlord, failed to provide a secure unit for your tenant, then you could be held responsible for it.

However, keep in mind that your duty and liability to your tenants is limited to what is reasonably foreseeable and only what is reasonable for a person in your position.

Cause of RobberyBreak the Lease?Why?
Doors or window didn't lock properly.ProbablyLandlord failed to provide a secure premise.
Tenant didn't lock the doors.NoTenant acted negligent.
Tenant lost a key or gave one to a friend.NoIf there is no sign of forced entry, then the missing key must have been used.
Tenant lost a key, informed you, and you didn't change the locks.ProbablyLandlord acted negligent.
Your tenant is involved in some crime/drug-related activity, which followed him home.NoThe tenant's behavior made him a target, provided the home was secure.
Your tenant's home was randomly selected, and it was a forced entry.NoA landlord isn't responsible for the actions of others.

Let’s go over some details on how to protect yourself as well as your tenants.

Replace Broken Windows and Doors Immediately

If the robbery was a break-in (forced entry) and the door or windows were broken, you need to fix those immediately—like within a 24 hours, preferably before nightfall.

You can’t expect a tenant to live in a place that can’t be secured.

Lack of security goes against the implied warranty of habitability: you must provide a safe place for your tenants to live. If you don’t fix a broken door or window within a short period of time, you are not providing a safe and secure premise, and your tenant could have grounds to break the lease.

Must You Provide an Alarm System?

Security AlarmYou don’t have to provide your tenants with an alarm system, but you might want to consider using or installing one, particularly if you want to keep the tenant.

It’s also a good idea to provide as much security as the area warrants for the area. A good rule of thumb is to determine what other people in the vicinity do. If you provide comparable security to what the neighbors have, what you are doing would be considered reasonable.

Robbery at the Neighbor’s House

What If Your Tenant “Feels” Unsafe?

The many emotions of fear

The many faces of fear

Maybe there was a break-in at a neighbor’s house or in someone else’s unit in the building, and you don’t provide an alarm system or bars on the windows. (Some jurisdictions don’t allow window bars.)

What if your tenant now feels unsafe and wants to get out of the lease?

In this case, your tenant probably cannot get out of their lease just because they feel afraid.

Emotions are relative, and subjective. The fear of danger doesn’t actually mean that danger exists.

If the situation is unbearable for your tenant but you have provided adequate security, they can move, but they’re still liable for paying the rent until the lease ends or until you rent to a new tenant.

This situation is not ideal, particularly if the tenant told you they felt unsafe. They might have asked to get out of the lease early or requested that you increase security. If you refuse both requests and the tenant does leave early, they might sue you under the implied warranty of habitability doctrine.

Your tenant may or may not receive any money from the lawsuit—it’s really up to the judge.

Alternatively, if you can work with a tenant, especially a good tenant who is now truly scared, it might benefit you to try.

After all, it’s best to have a tenant who really wants to live in the property, not one who feels obligated to.

Sometimes there is value in starting over with a new tenant.

Crime in the Area

What If There Has Been Crime in the Area?

If crime is getting worse in the neighborhood and you’re not increasing security, you might have a problem.

States vary on how they interpret just how safe you need to make your property. Generally, if crime such as burglary, vandalism, and violence in the area increases, you should increase your security if possible. For example, if you have a broken porch light, you should fix it. If you don’t have deadbolts, you should add them.

It’s in your best interest to make your rental property as secure as possible. If your tenant were injured from a criminal, your tenant might sue you. The court might order you to pay damages to your tenant, particularly if this was not the first case of a break-in at your rental property.

Related: Landlord-Tenant State Laws and Regulations

What You Can Do

  1. Meet or exceed safety laws.
    Make sure you are doing all you can to make your rental property safe for your tenants. You at least to meet the safety laws in your jurisdiction. For example, you might need to provide deadbolts, peepholes, and window locks. You can exceed safety laws if you like.
  2. Secure known break-in areas.
    If criminals have been breaking into nearby properties through the windows, for example, make sure you have secure windows by installing window alarms or by putting on bars if you can.
  3. Speak with your tenants about security best practices.
    Tell your tenants the security measures you have taken, and let them know how to use the security system if there is one.
  4. Address tenant complaints.
    Make sure you address tenant complaints, such as putting on a deadbolt lock if you just have an old front door lock, and fix any security measures you have that are broken.

Related Reading

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Have you every had a rental property broken into, and how did you handle it?  Did you allow your tenants to leave?

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59 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Richard Haven

    “If there is no sign of forced entry, then the missing key must have been used.”

    Bollocks. Have you never heard of bump keys?

    Unless the unit has expensive, bump-resistant locks (e.g. Medeco), then intruders might well not leave signs of forced entry

  • Sherry

    I came home from work to find the window from my bottom floor apartment had been broken by my dog. I have renters insurance to cover the damage. I notified emergency maintenance and they came to take pictures. My thought is that someone came too close to the window while I was gone and my dog went into defense mode. It’s been 24 hours and it hasn’t been repaired. I’m kinda scared to stay here until they do. How long do I have to wait befor I can beak the lease and move?

  • Vera Waters

    I sign a lease 2-21-17 Went to move some items in, went back the 3rd day and notice that someone had been in their. A towel was on the sink, some items my that we thought was left by the old tenants my daughter remove from the bathroom and set them on the kitchen counter. To go back 2 days later to find the items was back in the bathroom.The basement light was on, and the basement back door was unlock. Now I have been having anxiety attack because the Management company want let me out of this lease agreement and they want change the lock I have been admitted in the hospital for anxiety and chest pain I Am scare to move in this house How can I break the lease

  • Jessica Noack

    Came home from picking up the kids and came home to my sliding porch window broken. Thankfully nothing was taken but called landlord and he said he couldn’t get it secured till the next day. And my window was broken around 3 pm… Needless to say I don’t feel safe in my home and I’m had my father in law come and do what the landlord supposed to do and fix the problem.

  • Jessica

    I need advice please. I am a single mother living with two small children. I have 3 months left on my lease in Texas. In the last 4 months there has been two shooting, one resulting in a death in the parking lot. In addition my vehicle was stolen out of my paid parking spot. Is there any way to get out of my lease? I feel it is unsafe for my children and myself.

  • Eddie olds

    The cops were chasing someone he broke thru my back fence broke my sliding door got up in attic ! Police stand-off for seven hours they finally went in and got him ! They pulled him thru the ceiling ! Insulation everywhere everything in my room is destroyed ! I have no renters Insurance ! What can I do ? Is the home owners insurance responsible ?

  • helena

    a week ago they have tried to break in to my house for the third time. the first time they got in and I had to lock myself into the bedroom. the second time they got through the front door, my house are the only one in the complex that doesn’t have a safety gate at the back door. AND MY LANDLORD only responded by the second time they broke in. she eventually got someone to put in a gate at front door, but now the third time they got through the gate. the tenant didn’t care to check if they installed it correctly. I have send her emails and sms, but no reply. I am scared as hell and cant afford to move again. as I said I am the only only tenant who doesn’t have safety gate at the back door. please give me advise.

  • LaTrice

    The property manager at my apartment complex is allowing me to break my lease agreement early because of safety concerns. Even though I have the legal grounds to move out, I’m not obligated to spend the remaining several months of living in fear of an unknown individual who may retaliate against me the next time I come home from work late at night. I did have him trespassed by law enforcement, so I’m currently staying with a close relative until I can move all of my furniture to a storage facility and find another place to live.

  • Terethia

    I signed a lease on a Friday and the next day went to move done of my stuff into the home and the front glad was broken and all the water in the home was on in every bathroom and kitchen. The measurements guy came an installed a window that did not properly fit. I moved in on Monday and about 3 in the morning a brick came flying in my bedroom window by my head. I did live there 24 hours and two break in in two days. What can I do

  • Linda

    I live on a street in a very nice neighborhood. Hi were fit the past 2 years one house in our neighborhood is s known drug house. All hours of day and night cars racing around to drive up and stop by. The house was busted by Dallas swat during the day right around school let out time. Swat flashbombed the house and broke out the kitchen windows and dragged the kids and son out. Misdemeanor, felony charges documented in public records. My 3 daughters are afraid to walk by the house on the way to the park because of lewd comments. Smoking pot on porch, loud music inimiddle of night. Cops in alleyway and many cop raids at house. I informed my rental company and they didn’t take it seriously. I pay 1855 a month and feel unsafe.

  • Sean McCullough

    I recently found out that my tenant has four other people living in the property, one being her boyfriend. They have not paid the rent in 2 months and I have not had contact with them in 6 weeks. I started the eviction process and I am in the 2nd 10-day notice to evict paperwork. The boyfriend was arrested last week for stealing my neighbor’s car and breaking into my other neighbors home. This is all on video. When placing the 2nd eviction notice on the door yesterday, I entered the property. They have started to rip the ceilings down and are stealing the copper from the home. A police report has been filed for this. Can I know change the locks since the home has been burglarized although there is no forced entry on the unit per the report

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