Your 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 Robbery||Break the Lease?||Why?|
|Doors or window didn't lock properly.||Probably||Landlord failed to provide a secure premise.|
|Tenant didn't lock the doors.||No||Tenant was negligent.|
|Tenant lost a key or gave one to a friend.||No||If 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.||Probably||Landlord was negligent.|
|Your tenant is involved in some crime/drug-related activity, which followed him home.||No||The 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.||No||A 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?
You 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?
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.
What You Can Do
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Tenant Troubles: My Neighborhood’s Too Dangerous, Can I Break My Lease? – SF Appeal
- Can I terminate my lease based on a recent burglary in our building? – Avvo
- Can You Be Penalized for Breaking Your Lease if Your Home Was Burglarized? – eHow
- How can i break my 1yr lease due to burglary without penal – Just Answer
Share your Story!
Have you every had a rental property broken into, and how did you handle it? Did you allow your tenants to leave?