Can a Tenant Break the Lease After a Robbery?

Written on May 26, 2015 by , updated on March 4, 2019

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 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 was 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 was 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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62 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Tracey

    This is a related story in a way because it didn’t end up favorably for the robber. My friend and fellow landlord owns a house that she rents out. She owns BIG dogs and had an oversize dog door installed when she lived there. The tenant works out of his home and heard someone coming through the dog door. A man came through the dog door, a confrontation presented itself and the tenant fatality shot the robber resulting in A LOT of damage to the carpets and walls (an ugly sight). Luckily he had renter’s insurance and ALL the damage was covered by his insurance. (A big reason I make all my tenants buy renter’s insurance as it benefits both landlord and tenant). If this turned out the other way, I wonder if she would have been held liable since the dog door was an unsecured point of entry?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Wow Tracey, what a story. I agree with you on the renters insurance. I require that as well. And about the dog door, I personally would not have one in my rental properties. It’s common for burglars to enter homes that way, particular with big dog doors as you describe.

    • Francisco jimenez

      Is there any chance that a tenant could,break a lease ,when there is a Home invasion in your rented apartment?
      (2)And how should I go about dealing with this situation when property mangerment is saying that they won’t break the lease,that I could be the only one to break the lease but wouldn’t that make me lose my security deposit and allow them to charge me all kinds of extra fees?

      • Laura Agadoni

        Hi Francisco,
        I can’t answer your question because I don’t know all the details. Read the post, and look at the chart that gives examples of what is usually landlord or tenant responsibility. There are also other articles we link to for more information at the bottom.

  • Dan Hunter

    The above reasons are why I always change the keys before I admit a new tenant. I would feel awful if a new tenant was raped or robbed by a former tenant that held back a spare key to one of my apartments. I would even feel partially responsible if the former tenant was shot and killed while illegally entering his old apartment with the key he withheld.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Excellent point Dan!

    • Sherry

      Someone is entering my friend’s apartment. The person who lived there before her was known to steal from other people’s apartments here in the complex. She is the only person who might still have a key to the door. The apartment manager does not put in new locks when people move out. Aren’t they suppose to change the locks in between renter in AZ. ?

      • Laura Agadoni

        Hi Sherry,
        Look up the laws for AZ to see whether there are any about tenants changing locks. Also have your friend read her lease. If she is allowed, it might be best for her to change the locks and then give the landlord a copy of the key.

  • Shawn

    We have a tenant who has 1 month to go on lease, but wants to break lease and wants to be pro rated up to last day on lease and wants it to be taken out of security deposit. Here in Arizona. We’ll take any advise.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Shawn,

      Why would a landlord agree to that? I think it’s crazy how some tenants think they can just break a lease without consequence and expect the landlord to go the extra mile to make it happen. I never willingly use a security deposit to cover the last bit of rent. Otherwise, there would be nothing left to compensate for damages (if there were any).

  • Nicole Quaintance

    I currently have a tenant who would like to activate the alarm system in our rental property. The alarm system was already installed when my husband and I purchased the property in 2008 but we never activated it. My concern is that the equipment will most likely need to be replaced/updated and that isn’t an expense my husband and I want to pay for. Am I under any obligation to pay for upgraded equipment so they can activate a security system? Should I allow the tenants to install the equipment if they offer to pay for it out of pocket? Just not sure how I should proceed or what my options are . .

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Nicole,

      I don’t see how you would be obligated to upgrade unless your lease says so.

      If I were in your shoes, I’d probably tell the tenant “You are welcome to activate it, but if it needs updating, you will have to pay for the upgrades, and you can either cleanly remove the pieces + plus repairs when you vacate, or leave the pieces behind.”

  • Jennifer

    First of all, a break in is a burglary, not a robbery.

    That said, when this happened, I did install an alarm system for my tenant. In California, victims are entitled to restitution for installing an alarm system after a home burglary. I knew the chances of collecting were slim. (And in fact I didn’t get it.) But it made my long term tenant feel more secure so it was worth it. I paid for the installation and the tenant paid the periodic service fees.

  • Carmen

    Hi I rent a level in a 3 level house with a basement and share common rooms such as the kitchen. My landlord lives there with her daughter. This morning as I was going to leave for work I noticed that my car was broken into (I parked in the driveway). It didn’t appear like anything was missing, I think one of the doors was not closed all the way. I immediately texted her as she leaves earlier than me for work and she just told me I should have locked my door. Later in the day I saw that her daughter posted on Facebook that they had broke into her mom’s car and that they left all their school supplies and that they were busted. As soon as I read that I was in shocked that she didn’t mentioned anything of this. can i break my lease?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Carmen,
      Your situation sounds similar to the one in the post above under the section, “What If Your Tenant ‘Feels’ Unsafe.” Look that section over. Also, you might wish to show your landlord what you saw on Facebook. Let her know your concerns, and see what her response is. Meanwhile, the landlord is correct in that you should lock your doors.

  • Jesseca

    We rent a home in Georgia through a property management the owner of the house has a section of the garage converted into a storage room to store belongings which was secured by a padlock in February 2016 I returned home to find the padlock cut and the door wide open now here’s what the police have said they believe that this was someone who Has or Had a key to the house because No sign of forced entry nothing in the house was taken that we could tell however some of our tools in the garage were taken. My husband travels away from home and since this has happened I don’t feel safe in the home even though the property management had a locksmith change the locks .
    We have 4 months left on our lease I want to move out can I?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Jesseca,
      If you feel unsafe, you can always move out. Since management changed the locks, you probably can’t get out of your lease, though. You can ask to be let out of your lease, but the landlord doesn’t have to agree. If you do move out early, the landlord (or property manager) needs to look for another tenant. If they find one before four months, then you are off the hook for rent as soon as the new tenant moves in. Landlords cannot collect rent from 2 sources for the same unit.

  • Maria

    We moved to an apartment complex 6 months ago, we signed a 1 year contract, we decided that we wanted to pay more cause the area, is gated, looks beautiful and the apartment was just remodeled. But after we moved we started noticing that some neighbors were trouble, we complained several times, only once we got an answer, they applied some chemical stain next to apartment and we had to vacate the apartment for several days. We now have had to call the police numerous times with other tenants because of fight, violence, and loud noise. We now feel unsafe and the office has sent a blanket letter asking tenants not to walk alone because of crime and assault. We have videos, copies of complains and pics. Do you think is possible to break it?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Maria,
      You can always request to break your lease. It doesn’t sound as if you have grounds to do so, but I’m not an attorney. You might wish to speak with one or to contact legal aid in your area.

  • Sandy

    I have been renting for 2 years this September. In the last 2 months someone has tried to break in 2 times. A week ago went into my backyard and stole my BMW tires and rims along with the bags of recyclables. Memorial morning 1am someone busted out my car window. I have had the patrol unit here that works for the HOA each time and filed a complaint. I have also called the police each time and had a report made. I emailed Invitation Homes and reported all of this and all they said was your lease is up in September. I live alone and I am afraid at this point. I don’t want to live here anymore and don’t want my credit with a negative mark on it. I cannot afford to keep paying here and try and pay rent somewhere else. Just don’t know what to do

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Sandy,
      Call the police department’s non-emergency number, and get advice on how to best protect yourself. If you are too afraid to stay, you can leave, but you will be responsible for paying rent until your lease is up if you can’t work out another arrangement with the property owner.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Sandy

      In addition to Laura’s great advice, you could try to talk with the head property manager, to ask if he will let you out early. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

  • Emely

    I paid 4 months up front and 2 months security. I’ve been at the apartment for about three weeks and its terrible. I know I can’t do much about the rough neighborhood and the way people talk to me outside but I completely lost it when I saw my neighbor trying to open my front door. His hands were twisting it open and I thought my landlord had surveillance in front of the door. He told me if I ever called him up at 5am saying Hey ____ someone’s at my door!! He could check his phone and look at the cam. What a joke! Only the staircase! Nothing happened too. I see people staring , plotting to rob my apartment. They look at the windows and mark my doors by ripping off my decor etc. Someone also got shot outside, would this be enough to break it

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Emely,
      This is something you’ll need to discuss with your landlord or property manager. Meanwhile, call or go to your local police department to get advice on how to best protect yourself.

  • Pam

    My husband and I just moved into a 55+ community and in less than a month we were robbed while we were in the home. I really don’t feel safe living in a place that get robbed while we are home or with in a month of moving in. I don’t know if we can break our lease but I feel they should have told us the crime rate. I found out when talking to the police that another place was broken into near the office. Also this is suppose to be a 55+ community and there are a number of people across from me that are not even close to 55. When I talked to the office they know about those people and I don’t see anything being done.

    Does anyone know if in my case I would be able to break my lease?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Pam,
      I can’t comment on an individual situation regarding whether you can break your lease or not. You’ll need to take that up with your property management. If they won’t let you out, you could present your case to an attorney to see whether you have a case to break the lease. If and when you do move, keep in mind that you can conduct an online search to find out crime statistics for your area.

  • Jeremiah

    My neighbor is a mental person. Literally not as a jokeing matter he has mental issues. First off he keeps soliciting my wife for sex an beggeing her for it an anytime a female friend comes over he begs for her number an ask her out.((( by the way I’ve lived next door to him for 7 mouths now an about 3 times a mouth he walks up to me to introduce himself saying hi my name is -****- we haven’t properly met yet))) anyways 3 nights ago he set his apartment on fire broke 3 holes in his window an just sat on his front porch( it’s a screened-in front porch) an smoke a cigerate. The only reason I found out the apartment was on fire at 3 in the morning was because the apartment complex behind us somebody saw it thru their window.

  • Jeremiah

    So he came over an banged on are door to tell us an then the police an firetrucks showed up an he would not let them in. Instead he lit another cigarette. Finally they forcesed his way in my question is my landlord is still allowing him to live here but me my wife do not feel safe next to him can we break our lease because of this also he still living in the fire conditions.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Jeremiah,
      I can’t answer individual situations. You might be able to break your lease. You’ll need to talk with your landlord about that. If they won’t let you, you could try suing your landlord and leave it up to the judge to decide.

  • Mary

    My roommate and I rent a home that was attempted to be broken into. There was heavy damage to the back door. We emailed the property management company but no reply. Not even a courtesy “we got your email reply”(which they always do). This was over 3 days ago. We called non-emergency. (for the initial incident) and emergency (because they attempted to break in again, while we were home). We don’t feel safe in the house and are thinking of breaking our lease. How long are we supposed to wait until we hear a response & would we be able to break the lease?

  • Laura Agadoni

    Hi Mary,
    If you can’t get ahold of your landlord or management company, call you Department of Consumer Affairs to find out what you should do regarding breaking the lease. Also, ask the police department what you can do in the meantime to protect yourself.

  • Anthony

    I was robbed twice in a week as well as multiple break ins and armed robberies in the parking lot. I left in fear for my life as my pistol was stolen the first time they broke in. I called the second time because the guy I suspected did the burglary was not at work and asked the landlord (on site) to keep an eye on my place, only to come home to my door wide open. Am I liable for the remaining lease?

    • Anthony

      I’d also like to add, to be fair, the landlord fixed the window quickly as that is how they get in, but my neighbor explained how they got in as it is a common occurrence in that apartment complex

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Anthony,
      Talk with your landlord. Let them know you want to break the lease based on what’s been happening. If they won’t let you, tell them you plan to break the lease, and let them know about this: http://www.nolo.com/dictionary/constructive-eviction-term.html I’m not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice.

      • Anthony

        Thanks for the speedy reply. This was from 2013 and I gave them a letter stating that I no longer felt safe in the apartment. My main priority is my safety. The reason this issue resurfaced is because they are trying to claim the rest of my lease and the debt is now on my credit score. I wish to buy a house and even I would agree this type of debt looks bad for someone trying to buy a house and I need a better credit score

        • Anthony

          Words cannot describe the emotional distress that followse everywhere to double checking or triple checking locks on every door all the time. I was approved for a house while i lived there and because of this claim I am no longer qualified.

          At the time also, I was looking for a new tenant and working with the landlord for that. The day I was supposed to show the apartment was the 2nd time someone broke in and had to cancel the appointment

  • James Thomson

    My house has been broken into twice, first time a window was smashed in, second time a roommates ac unit was pulled out of the window. Our landlord has promised to make security upgrades but still hasn’t (they likely would have stopped the second break in). With clear reason to, we all feel unsafe here and the house is clearly a target (we found out the tenants before us were also robbed). Do we have legal backing to break the lease and move if the landlord continues to fail to secure the property?

  • Maria

    My storage unit that is located next to my apartment and is part of my lease was broken into and most of my stuff was stolen. I do have renters insurance but they are refusing to pay for some items such as tires and rims that were inside the unit. This was not the first burglary in my apartment complex. Is my landlord responsible for the items that were stolen and not covered by the renters insurance that they contract with?

  • daisy

    my house just got broken into Monday morning. while I was in my apartment with my two daughters. the suspect waited for my husband to leave to work at 530 am and within two to three min’s after my husband leaving my doorbell kept ringing over and over. none stop I’m guessing the suspect wa’s waiting for me to respond to make sure there was no one home. I didn’t say a word or answered the door I called 911 right away and while being on the phone with 911 he broke into my house and I had to scream for him to know there was actually someone on the house and ones I screamed and he ran out. I don’t feel safe in my apartment anymore I really cant sleep. if I can break my lease I would move on post my husband is military.

  • Keven merriman

    Me and my wife were burglarized 6 days ago and my neighbor was just robbed tonight. The officer that came said this is the 4th time he has been here for burglaries. My wife and I feel this may fall under the habitability law to break our lease, nothing has been done to improve security. Also the maintenence manager told me I should buy wood rods to place it the windows and sliding door. Is it my or their duty to make it safer around here. WHAT rights do we have? Thank you Sincerely Santa fe,Nm

  • CRYSTAL

    Me and my Family have been renting a home through a property management for 6mon. on a 1yr lease. Well we where away from home 4ppl broke our kitchen window burglarizing our home. Now that we are sacred & feel very unsafe that they will come back. we would like to break the lease but from what Our property management said we would have to pay fees for changing locks still be responsible for rent and hold my deposit until they got somebody to take over the lease. After the robbery is when I discovered how many high crime rate and burglars which they didn’t inform me nor have a home security put in. they failed to fix my broke window and door fixed within 24hrs. they now want me to pay month to month on a home security system Is this lawful?

  • Tracy

    Hello,
    I have a problem with my landlord. 3 weeks ago, one of my friends came over and in the driveway where she parked the car they broke into it and stole some stuff. Later on, a break in happened in the house, through a window that I didn’t know it was not completely locked. It is a side window that never used since I move in. In this robbery, they stole my laptops and personal belongings. After two days, they broke into my friends and roommate car again. The police when they came they recommended for me to leave because it is an unsafe neighborhood, something my landlord never mentioned. I am not american, but I want to leave and take my deposit. My landlord refused to give it to me, saying it is my choice to leave.What should I do?

  • PATTY

    hi i just recently got my home(renting) broken into this is the second time this has happend while living in this home first they stole my car while we were sleeping and now they broke into my house thank god nobody was home at the time but i was wondering if i can break my lease as i only have 3months left of it i dont feel safe anymore and landlord does not want to fix window where they broke into cause he says its not serious please help i need advice..thanks

  • shawna hill

    i am renting a house in indiana. i only have a six month lease. during my FOUR month stay crime in the area has sky rocketed. my home has been broken into twice and ive come home from work to see a drug addict knocked out on the porch. LAST NIGHT somebody kicked in my nieghbors door then they came to my front door and tried to open my door i yelled for them to leave called the police and put on my car alarm to scare them away. i have three police reports so far. i knew it would only be a matter of time before they ried to come in while i was there alone with my 2 year old. is this grounds to be let out of my lease? they have not fixed the door that got kicked in from the second robbery. they never gave me keys ton lock the security doors

  • Chanel Lankford

    My apartment was horrifically broken into, invaded and vandalised. A report was filed however the landlord made me pay for or replace all damages. I didn’t want to move because I came here to help my disabled mother. Yesterday her car was broken into and the mail keys as well as the remote to the gate were stolen, she filed a report and he is now making her pay for the remote as well as attempting to soften the blow by saying he will replace mail keys this ONE TIME but states how he never does that. Is this normal? I can’t locate it in the landlord tenant act but I’m probably too upset at the moment. She can’t afford that 40$ and although it sounds like a secure complex, it hardly is and crimes gotten worse daily over the past 20 years.

    • Chanel Lankford

      Guess I pay. I’ve moved out and replaced everything including the kitchen sink. I’m better of in the homeless shelter here anyway. It’s unfortunate what landlords out here can get get away with.

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